New study uncovers genes that define the appearance of eyebrows

Study focuses on the genetics of eyebrow thickness in Europeans.


Natural variation in eyebrow thickness (ET) is one of the most conspicuous facial features. Understanding its genetic basis is of broad interest and has implications for dermatology and other fields.

The International Visible Trait Genetics (VisiGen) Consortium has conducted the first gene mapping study on eyebrow thickness in Europeans. Scientists discovered three previously unreported genetic loci. Moreover, they demonstrate that eyebrow appearance has partly the same and partly different underlying genes in people from other parts of the world.

The GWAS on eyebrow thickness in Europeans conducted in this study is the first of its kind. The work increases genetic understanding of human eyebrow variation, which is of general interest and has implications for dermatology and other professions, by uncovering new genes and rediscovering some of the genes previously found in non-Europeans.

eyebrow thickness classified
Example images illustrating eyebrow thickness classified into three categories, i.e., 0-thin, 1-intermediate, and 2-thick (Credit: Journal of Investigative Dermatology).

Lead investigator Prof. Dr. Manfred Kayser, Department of Genetic Identification, Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam, and co-chair of the VisiGen Consortium responsible for this study, commented“For the first time, we performed a gene mapping study on eyebrow thickness variation in Europeans. Previous genetic knowledge on eyebrow thickness was limited and solely restricted to non-Europeans. We discovered new genes involved in eyebrow variation in Europeans and rediscovered some previously identified genes in non-Europeans.”

In addition to finding three newly unreported genetic loci linked to eyebrow thickness, the study of 9,948 people from four groups of European ancestry also recovered two of the four genetic loci previously observed in non-Europeans. Due to very low allele frequencies in Europeans, two other genetic loci previously described in non-Europeans had little impact on Europeans.

Prof. Dr. Kayser concluded, “Our study significantly improves the genetic knowledge of human eyebrow appearance by increasing the number of known genes from four to seven and delivers new targets for future functional studies. By having demonstrated that eyebrow variation is determined by both shared and distinct genetic factors across continental populations, our findings underline the need for studying populations of different ancestries to unveil the genetic basis of human traits, including, but not restricted to, physical appearance.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Fuduan Peng, Ziyi Xiong, Gu Zhu et al. Genome-wide association studies identify DNA variants influencing eyebrow thickness variation in Europeans and across continental populations. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. DOI: 10.1016/j.jid.2022.11.026


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