Genetic influences on neonatal cortical thickness and surface area

Hum Brain Mapp. 2018 Dec;39(12):4998-5013. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24340. Epub 2018 Aug 24.


Genetic and environmental influences on cortical thickness (CT) and surface area (SA) are thought to vary in a complex and dynamic way across the lifespan. It has been established that CT and SA are genetically distinct in older children, adolescents, and adults, and that heritability varies across cortical regions. Very little, however, is known about how genetic and environmental factors influence infant CT and SA. Using structural MRI, we performed the first assessment of genetic and environmental influences on normal variation of SA and CT in 360 twin neonates. We observed strong and significant additive genetic influences on total SA (a2 = 0.78) and small and nonsignificant genetic influences on average CT (a2 = 0.29). Moreover, we found significant genetic overlap (genetic correlation = 0.65) between these global cortical measures. Regionally, there were minimal genetic influences across the cortex for both CT and SA measures and no distinct patterns of genetic regionalization. Overall, outcomes from this study suggest a dynamic relationship between CT and SA during the neonatal period and provide novel insights into how genetic influences shape cortical structure during early development.

Keywords: MRI; brain development; gray matter; heritability; infant; twin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Female
  • Heredity / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods*