Genetics of white matter development: a DTI study of 705 twins and their siblings aged 12 to 29

Neuroimage. 2011 Feb 1;54(3):2308-17. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.10.015. Epub 2010 Oct 13.


White matter microstructure is under strong genetic control, yet it is largely unknown how genetic influences change from childhood into adulthood. In one of the largest brain mapping studies ever performed, we determined whether the genetic control over white matter architecture depends on age, sex, socioeconomic status (SES), and intelligence quotient (IQ). We assessed white matter integrity voxelwise using diffusion tensor imaging at high magnetic field (4-Tesla), in 705 twins and their siblings (age range 12-29; 290 M/415 F). White matter integrity was quantified using a widely accepted measure, fractional anisotropy (FA). We fitted gene-environment interaction models pointwise, to visualize brain regions where age, sex, SES and IQ modulate heritability of fiber integrity. We hypothesized that environmental factors would start to outweigh genetic factors during late childhood and adolescence. Genetic influences were greater in adolescence versus adulthood, and greater in males than in females. Socioeconomic status significantly interacted with genes that affect fiber integrity: heritability was higher in those with higher SES. In people with above-average IQ, genetic factors explained over 80% of the observed FA variability in the thalamus, genu, posterior internal capsule, and superior corona radiata. In those with below-average IQ, however, only around 40% FA variability in the same regions was attributable to genetic factors. Genes affect fiber integrity, but their effects vary with age, sex, SES and IQ. Gene-environment interactions are vital to consider in the search for specific genetic polymorphisms that affect brain integrity and connectivity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology
  • Algorithms
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Genetics*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Siblings
  • Social Class
  • Twins
  • Young Adult