Genetic architecture of subcortical brain regions: common and region-specific genetic contributions

Genes Brain Behav. 2014 Nov;13(8):821-30. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12177. Epub 2014 Oct 8.


Understanding the aetiology of patterns of variation within and covariation across brain regions is key to advancing our understanding of the functional, anatomical and developmental networks of the brain. Here we applied multivariate twin modelling and principal component analysis (PCA) to investigate the genetic architecture of the size of seven subcortical regions (caudate nucleus, thalamus, putamen, pallidum, hippocampus, amygdala and nucleus accumbens) in a genetically informative sample of adolescents and young adults (N = 1038; mean age = 21.6 ± 3.2 years; including 148 monozygotic and 202 dizygotic twin pairs) from the Queensland Twin IMaging (QTIM) study. Our multivariate twin modelling identified a common genetic factor that accounts for all the heritability of intracranial volume (0.88) and a substantial proportion of the heritability of all subcortical structures, particularly those of the thalamus (0.71 out of 0.88), pallidum (0.52 out of 0.75) and putamen (0.43 out of 0.89). In addition, we also found substantial region-specific genetic contributions to the heritability of the hippocampus (0.39 out of 0.79), caudate nucleus (0.46 out of 0.78), amygdala (0.25 out of 0.45) and nucleus accumbens (0.28 out of 0.52). This provides further insight into the extent and organization of subcortical genetic architecture, which includes developmental and general growth pathways, as well as the functional specialization and maturation trajectories that influence each subcortical region.

Keywords: Covariation; heritability; multivariate; structural MRI; subcortical volumes; twin study.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebrum / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Organ Size / genetics
  • Twins / genetics*
  • Young Adult