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Absolute and relative estimates of genetic and environmental variance in brain structure volumes

  • Lachlan T. StrikeEmail author
  • Narelle K. Hansell
  • Paul M. Thompson
  • Greig I. de Zubicaray
  • Katie L. McMahon
  • Brendan P. Zietsch
  • Margaret J. Wright
Original Article

Abstract

Comparing estimates of the amount of genetic and environmental variance for different brain structures may elucidate differences in the genetic architecture or developmental constraints of individual brain structures. However, most studies compare estimates of relative genetic (heritability) and environmental variance in brain structure, which do not reflect differences in absolute variance between brain regions. Here we used a population sample of young adult twins and singleton siblings of twins (n = 791; M = 23 years, Queensland Twin IMaging study) to estimate the absolute genetic and environmental variance, standardised by the phenotypic mean, in the size of cortical, subcortical, and ventricular brain structures. Mean-standardised genetic variance differed widely across structures [23.5-fold range 0.52% (hippocampus) to 12.28% (lateral ventricles)], but the range of estimates within cortical, subcortical, or ventricular structures was more moderate (two to fivefold range). There was no association between mean-standardised and relative measures of genetic variance (i.e., heritability) in brain structure volumes. We found similar results in an independent sample (n = 1075, M = 29 years, Human Connectome Project). These findings open important new lines of enquiry: namely, understanding the bases of these variance patterns, and their implications regarding the genetic architecture, evolution, and development of the human brain.

Keywords

Volume Genetics Magnetic resonance imaging Twins 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We are forever grateful to the twins and siblings for their willingness to participate in our studies. We thank Marlene Grace and Ann Eldridge for participant recruitment; Kerrie McAloney for study co-ordination; Kori Johnson, Aaron Quiggle, Natalie Garden, Matthew Meredith, Peter Hobden, Kate Borg, Aiman Al Najjar and Anita Burns for data acquisition; David Butler and Daniel Park for IT support. We additionally thank the two anonymous reviewers whose comments and suggestions helped improve this manuscript.

Funding

The QTIM study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD050735), and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC 486682, 1009064), Australia. Lachlan Strike was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) scholarship and a Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) top-up scholarship. Data were provided [in part] by the Human Connectome Project, WU-Minn Consortium (Principal Investigators: David Van Essen and Kamil Ugurbil; 1U54MH091657) funded by the 16 NIH Institutes and Centers that support the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research; and by the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience at Washington University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Research involving human participants and/or animals

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

429_2019_1931_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1643 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queensland Brain InstituteUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Imaging Genetics CenterUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Faculty of Health, Institute of Health and Biomedical InnovationQueensland University of Technology (QUT)BrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Herston Imaging Research Facility and School of Clinical SciencesQueensland University of Technology (QUT)BrisbaneAustralia
  5. 5.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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