A structural MRI study in monozygotic twins concordant or discordant for attention/hyperactivity problems: evidence for genetic and environmental heterogeneity in the developing brain

Neuroimage. 2007 Apr 15;35(3):1004-20. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.01.037. Epub 2007 Feb 8.


Several structural brain abnormalities have been reported in patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, the etiology of these brain changes is still unclear. To investigate genetic and environmental influences on ADHD related neurobiological changes, we performed Voxel-Based Morphometry on MRI scans from monozygotic (MZ) twins selected from a large longitudinal population database to be highly concordant or highly discordant for ratings on the Child Behavior Checklist Attention Problem scale (CBCL-AP). Children scoring low on the CBCL-AP are at low risk for ADHD, whereas children scoring high on this scale are at high-risk for ADHD. Brain differences between concordant high-risk twin pairs and concordant low-risk twin pairs likely reflect the genetic risk for ADHD; brain differences between the low-risk and high-risk twins from discordant MZ twin pairs reflect the environmental risk for ADHD. A major difference between comparisons of high and low-risk twins from concordant pairs and high/low twins from discordant pairs was found for the prefrontal lobes. The concordant high-risk pairs showed volume loss in orbitofrontal subdivisions. High-risk members from the discordant twin pairs exhibited volume reduction in the right inferior dorsolateral prefontal cortex. In addition, the posterior corpus callosum was compromised in concordant high-risk pairs, only. Our findings indicate that inattention and hyperactivity symptoms are associated with anatomical abnormalities of a distributed action-attentional network. Different brain areas of this network appear to be affected in inattention/hyperactivity caused by genetic (i.e., high concordant MZ pairs) vs. environmental (i.e., high-low discordant MZ pairs) risk factors. These results provide clues that further our understanding of brain alterations in ADHD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / genetics*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diseases in Twins / epidemiology
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Diseases in Twins / pathology*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / epidemiology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Twin Studies as Topic / statistics & numerical data