Memory performance is the result of many distinct mental processes, such as memory encoding, forgetting, and modulation of memory strength by emotional arousal. These processes, which are subserved by partly distinct molecular profiles, are not always amenable to direct observation. Therefore, computational models can be used to make inferences about specific mental processes and to study their genetic underpinnings. Here we combined a computational model-based analysis of memory-related processes with high density genetic information derived from a genome-wide study in healthy young adults. After identifying the best-fitting model for a verbal memory task and estimating the best-fitting individual cognitive parameters, we found a common variant in the gene encoding the brain-specific angiogenesis inhibitor 1-associated protein 2 (BAIAP2) that was related to the model parameter reflecting modulation of verbal memory strength by negative valence. We also observed an association between the same genetic variant and a similar emotional modulation phenotype in a different population performing a picture memory task. Furthermore, using functional neuroimaging we found robust genotype-dependent differences in activity of the parahippocampal cortex that were specifically related to successful memory encoding of negative versus neutral information. Finally, we analyzed cortical gene expression data of 193 deceased subjects and detected significant BAIAP2 genotype-dependent differences in BAIAP2 mRNA levels. Our findings suggest that model-based dissociation of specific cognitive parameters can improve the understanding of genetic underpinnings of human learning and memory.
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