Heritability estimates of cortical anatomy: The influence and reliability of different estimation strategies

Neuroimage. 2018 Sep:178:78-91. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.05.014. Epub 2018 May 6.


Twin study designs have been previously used to investigate the heritability of neuroanatomical measures, such as regional cortical volumes. Volume can be fractionated into surface area and cortical thickness, where both measures are considered to have independent genetic and environmental bases. Region of interest (ROI) and vertex-wise approaches have been used to calculate heritability of cortical thickness and surface area in twin studies. In our study, we estimate heritability using the Human Connectome Project magnetic resonance imaging dataset composed of healthy young twin and non-twin siblings (mean age of 29, sample size of 757). Both ROI and vertex-wise methods were used to compare regional heritability of cortical thickness and surface area. Heritability estimates were controlled for age, sex, and total ipsilateral surface area or mean cortical thickness. In both approaches, heritability estimates of cortical thickness and surface area were lower when accounting for average ipsilateral cortical thickness and total surface area respectively. When comparing both approaches at a regional level, the vertex-wise approach showed higher surface area and lower cortical thickness heritability estimates compared to the ROI approach. The calcarine fissure had the highest surface area heritability estimate (ROI: 44%, vertex-wise: 50%) and posterior cingulate gyrus had the highest cortical thickness heritability (ROI: 50%, vertex-wise 40%). We also observed that limitations in image processing and variability in spatial averaging errors based on regional size may make obtaining true estimates of cortical thickness and surface area challenging in smaller regions. It is important to identify which approach is best suited to estimate heritability based on the research hypothesis and the size of the regions being investigated.

Keywords: Cortical thickness; Extended twin design; Heritability; Region of interest approach; Surface area; Vertex-wise approach.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Female
  • Genetic Phenomena*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Young Adult