Structural covariance in the human cortex

J Neurosci. 2005 Sep 7;25(36):8303-10. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0357-05.2005.


The morphology of the human cortex varies remarkably across individuals, regardless of overall brain size. It is currently unclear whether related cortical regions covary in gray matter density, as a result of mutually trophic influences or common experience-related plasticity. We acquired a structural magnetic resonance imaging scan from 172 subjects and extracted the regional gray matter densities from 12 readily identifiable regions of interest involved in sensorimotor or higher-order cognitive functions. We then used these values to predict regional densities in the remaining areas of the cortex, using voxel-based morphometry. This revealed patterns of positive and negative covariance that provide insight into the topographical organization of multiple cortical regions. We report that the gray matter density of a region is a good predictor of the density of the homotopic region in the contralateral hemisphere, with the striking exception of primary visual cortex. Whereas some regions express patterns of regional covariance that are mirror symmetrical relative to the interhemispheric fissure, other regions express asymmetric patterns of regional covariance. Finally, patterns of covariance are remarkably consistent between males and females, with the exception of the left amygdala, which is positively associated with the left and right anterior inferior temporal cortex in males and with the right angular gyrus in females. Our study establishes that the density of different cortical regions is coordinated within an individual. The coordinated variations we report are likely to be determined by both genetic and environmental factors and may be the basis for differences in individual behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Gyrus Cinguli / anatomy & histology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Periaqueductal Gray / anatomy & histology