The Heritability of Cortical Folding: Evidence from the Human Connectome Project

Cereb Cortex. 2021 Jan 1;31(1):702-715. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa254.


The mechanisms underlying cortical folding are incompletely understood. Prior studies have suggested that individual differences in sulcal depth are genetically mediated, with deeper and ontologically older sulci more heritable than others. In this study, we examine FreeSurfer-derived estimates of average convexity and mean curvature as proxy measures of cortical folding patterns using a large (N = 1096) genetically informative young adult subsample of the Human Connectome Project. Both measures were significantly heritable near major sulci and primary fissures, where approximately half of individual differences could be attributed to genetic factors. Genetic influences near higher order gyri and sulci were substantially lower and largely nonsignificant. Spatial permutation analysis found that heritability patterns were significantly anticorrelated to maps of evolutionary and neurodevelopmental expansion. We also found strong phenotypic correlations between average convexity, curvature, and several common surface metrics (cortical thickness, surface area, and cortical myelination). However, quantitative genetic models suggest that correlations between these metrics are largely driven by nongenetic factors. These findings not only further our understanding of the neurobiology of gyrification, but have pragmatic implications for the interpretation of heritability maps based on automated surface-based measurements.

Trial registration: NCT00001246.

Keywords: FreeSurfer; MRI; average convexity; mean curvature; twin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Connectome*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Young Adult

Associated data