Genetic influences on human brain structure: a review of brain imaging studies in twins

Hum Brain Mapp. 2007 Jun;28(6):464-73. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20398.


Twin studies suggest that variation in human brain volume is genetically influenced. The genes involved in human brain volume variation are still largely unknown, but several candidate genes have been suggested. An overview of structural Magnetic Resonance (brain) Imaging studies in twins is presented, which focuses on the influence of genetic factors on variation in healthy human brain volume. Twin studies have shown that genetic effects varied regionally within the brain, with high heritabilities of frontal lobe volumes (90-95%), moderate estimates in the hippocampus (40-69%), and environmental factors influencing several medial brain areas. High heritability estimates of brain structures were revealed for regional amounts of gray matter (density) in medial frontal cortex, Heschl's gyrus, and postcentral gyrus. In addition, moderate to high heritabilities for densities of Broca's area, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, amygdala, gray matter of the parahippocampal gyrus, and white matter of the superior occipitofrontal fasciculus were reported. The high heritability for (global) brain volumes, including the intracranium, total brain, cerebral gray, and white matter, seems to be present throughout life. Estimates of genetic and environmental influences on age-related changes in brain structure in children and adults await further longitudinal twin-studies. For prefrontal cortex volume, white matter, and hippocampus volumes, a number of candidate genes have been identified, whereas for other brain areas, only a few or even a single candidate gene has been found so far. New techniques such as genome-wide scans may become helpful in the search for genes that are involved in the regulation of human brain volume throughout life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Environment
  • Genetics*
  • Humans
  • PubMed / statistics & numerical data
  • Twin Studies as Topic*