Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 7, pp 3487–3494 | Cite as

Brain structure mediates the association between height and cognitive ability

  • Eero VuoksimaaEmail author
  • Matthew S. Panizzon
  • Carol E. Franz
  • Christine Fennema-Notestine
  • Donald J. HaglerJr.
  • Michael J. Lyons
  • Anders M. Dale
  • William S. Kremen
Short Communication


Height and general cognitive ability are positively associated, but the underlying mechanisms of this relationship are not well understood. Both height and general cognitive ability are positively associated with brain size. Still, the neural substrate of the height-cognitive ability association is unclear. We used a sample of 515 middle-aged male twins with structural magnetic resonance imaging data to investigate whether the association between height and cognitive ability is mediated by cortical size. In addition to cortical volume, we used genetically, ontogenetically and phylogenetically distinct cortical metrics of total cortical surface area and mean cortical thickness. Height was positively associated with general cognitive ability and total cortical volume and cortical surface area, but not with mean cortical thickness. Mediation models indicated that the well-replicated height-general cognitive ability association is accounted for by individual differences in total cortical volume and cortical surface area (highly heritable metrics related to global brain size), and that the genetic association between cortical surface area and general cognitive ability underlies the phenotypic height-general cognitive ability relationship.


Cognitive ability Cortical surface area Cortical thickness Height Magnetic resonance imaging Twins 



We would like to acknowledge the continued cooperation and participation of the members of the VET Registry and their families.


Supported by NIA R01 AG022381, AG050595 and R03 AG 046413, and, in part, with resources of the VA San Diego Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health. The content of this manuscript is the responsibility of the authors and does not represent official views of NIA/NIH, or the VA. The Cooperative Studies Program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided financial support for development and maintenance of the Vietnam Era Twin Registry.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

AMD is a founder of and holds equity in CorTechs Laboratories, Inc., and also serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Human Longevity, Inc., and receives funding through research agreements with General Electric Healthcare and Medtronic, Inc. The terms of these arrangements have been reviewed and approved by the University of California, San Diego, in accordance with its conflict of interest policies. All other authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Supplementary material

429_2018_1675_MOESM1_ESM.docx (55 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 55 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eero Vuoksimaa
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew S. Panizzon
    • 2
    • 3
  • Carol E. Franz
    • 2
    • 3
  • Christine Fennema-Notestine
    • 2
    • 4
  • Donald J. HaglerJr.
    • 4
  • Michael J. Lyons
    • 5
  • Anders M. Dale
    • 4
    • 6
  • William S. Kremen
    • 2
    • 3
    • 7
  1. 1.Institute for Molecular Medicine FinlandUniversity of HelsinkiUniversity of Helsinki, HelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.Center for Behavior Genetics of AgingUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  4. 4.Department of RadiologyUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychology and Brain SciencesBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  6. 6.Department of NeurosciencesUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  7. 7.Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental HealthVA San Diego Healthcare SystemLa JollaUSA

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