White matter hyperintensities and vascular risk factors in monozygotic twins

Neurobiol Aging. 2018 Jun:66:40-48. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2018.02.002. Epub 2018 Feb 10.


Cerebral white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) have been associated with vascular risk factors, both of which are under genetic influence. We examined in a monozygotic twin sample whether the association between vascular risk and WMHs is influenced by overlapping genetic factors. We included 195 cognitively normal monozygotic twins (age = 70 ± 7 years), including 94 complete pairs. Regional WMH load was estimated using an automated algorithm. Vascular risk was summarized with the Framingham score. The within-twin pair correlation for total WMHs was 0.76 and for Framingham score was 0.77. Within participants, Framingham score was associated with total and periventricular WMHs (r = 0.32). Framingham score in 1 twin was also associated with total WMHs in the co-twin (r = 0.26). Up to 83% of the relation between both traits could be explained by shared genetic effects. In conclusion, monozygotic twins have highly similar vascular risk and WMH burden, confirming a genetic background for these traits. The association between both traits is largely driven by overlapping genetic factors.

Keywords: Monozygotic twins; Vascular risk factors; White matter hyperintensities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology*
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Genes, Overlapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable
  • Risk Factors
  • Twins, Monozygotic*
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • White Matter / pathology*