Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 7, pp 3411–3421 | Cite as

Chronotype differences in cortical thickness: grey matter reflects when you go to bed

  • Jessica RosenbergEmail author
  • Heidi I. L. Jacobs
  • Ivan I. Maximov
  • Martina Reske
  • N. J. Shah
Original Article


Based on individual circadian cycles and associated cognitive rhythms, humans can be classified via standardised self-reports as being early (EC), late (LC) and intermediate (IC) chronotypes. Alterations in neural cortical structure underlying these chronotype differences have rarely been investigated and are the scope of this study. 16 healthy male ECs, 16 ICs and 16 LCs were measured with a 3 T MAGNETOM TIM TRIO (Siemens, Erlangen) scanner using a magnetization prepared rapid gradient echo sequence. Data were analysed by applying voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and vertex-wise cortical thickness (CTh) analysis. VBM analysis revealed that ECs showed significantly lower grey matter volumes bilateral in the lateral occipital cortex and the precuneus as compared to LCs, and in the right lingual gyrus, occipital fusiform gyrus and the occipital pole as compared to ICs. CTh findings showed lower grey matter volumes for ECs in the left anterior insula, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and right pars triangularis than for LCs, and in the right superior parietal gyrus than for ICs. These findings reveal that chronotype differences are associated with specific neural substrates of cortical thickness, surface areas, and folding. We conclude that this might be the basis for chronotype differences in behaviour and brain function. Furthermore, our results speak for the necessity of considering “chronotype” as a potentially modulating factor in all kinds of structural brain-imaging experiments.


Chronotype Circadian Cortical thickness Grey matter Voxel-based morphometry 



We gratefully acknowledge the participation of our subjects and we would like to thank (A) Brinck, (B) Elghahwagi, D. Krug, S. Harzheim, A. Heimsoeth, A. Muren, V. Nelles and T. Warbrick for their support in preparing and/or their assistance in conducting the study.


This research was supported by Grants from JARA, RWTH (JR). NJS is funded in part by the Helmholtz Alliance ICEMED—Imaging and Curing Environmental Metabolic Diseases, through the Initiative and Network Fund of the Helmholtz Association (HA-314).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors do not hold any actual or potential conflicts of interest including any financial, personal or other relationships with other people or organizations that could inappropriately influence, or be perceived to influence this work.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica Rosenberg
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Heidi I. L. Jacobs
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  • Ivan I. Maximov
    • 1
    • 7
  • Martina Reske
    • 1
    • 2
    • 8
  • N. J. Shah
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 9
  1. 1.Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-4), Medical Imaging PhysicsForschungszentrum Jülich GmbHJülichGermany
  2. 2.JARA-Translational Brain MedicineRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  3. 3.Department of NeurologyUniversity Clinic AachenAachenGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-3)Forschungszentrum Juelich GmbHJülichGermany
  5. 5.Alzheimer Centre Limburg, School for Mental Health and Neuroscience (MHeNS), Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life SciencesMaastricht University Medical CentreMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  6. 6.Department of Cognitive Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology and NeuroscienceMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  7. 7.Experimental Physics IIITU Dortmund UniversityDortmundGermany
  8. 8.Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-6), Computational and Systems Neuroscience, and Institute for Advanced Simulation (IAS-6), Theoretical NeuroscienceForschungszentrum Jülich GmbHJülichGermany
  9. 9.Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, and Monash Biomedical Imaging, School of Psychological SciencesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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