Skip to content

Investigating genetic links between grapheme-colour synaesthesia and neuropsychiatric traits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Amanda K Tilot
  • Arianna Vino
  • Katerina S Kucera
  • Duncan A Carmichael
  • Loes van den Heuvel
  • Joery den Hoed
  • Anton V Sidoroff-Dorso
  • Archie Campbell
  • David J Porteous
  • Beate St Pourcain
  • Tessa M van Leeuwen
  • Jamie Ward
  • Romke Rouw
  • Julia Simner
  • Simon E Fisher
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalPhilosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1787
Early online date21 Oct 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 23 Aug 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2019
DatePublished (current) - 9 Dec 2019


Synaesthesia is a neurological phenomenon affecting perception, where triggering stimuli (e.g. letters and numbers) elicit unusual secondary sensory experiences (e.g. colours). Family-based studies point to a role for genetic factors in the development of this trait. However, the contributions of common genomic variation to synaesthesia have not yet been investigated. Here, we present the SynGenes cohort, the largest genotyped collection of unrelated people with grapheme-colour synaesthesia (n = 723). Synaesthesia has been associated with a range of other neuropsychological traits, including enhanced memory and mental imagery, as well as greater sensory sensitivity. Motivated by the prior literature on putative trait overlaps, we investigated polygenic scores derived from published genome-wide scans of schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), comparing our SynGenes cohort to 2181 non-synaesthetic controls. We found a very slight association between schizophrenia polygenic scores and synaesthesia (Nagelkerke's R2 = 0.0047, empirical p = 0.0027) and no significant association for scores related to ASD (Nagelkerke's R2 = 0.00092, empirical p = 0.54) or body mass index (R2 = 0.00058, empirical p = 0.60), included as a negative control. As sample sizes for studying common genomic variation continue to increase, genetic investigations of the kind reported here may yield novel insights into the shared biology between synaesthesia and other traits, to complement findings from neuropsychology and brain imaging. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Bridging senses: novel insights from synaesthesia'.

    Research areas

  • synaesthesia/synesthesia, polygenic scores, Generation Scotland, autism, schizophrenia

Download statistics

No data available



  • Full-text PDF (accepted author manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via The Royal Society at Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 743 KB, PDF document


View research connections

Related faculties, schools or groups