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.
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