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A Comparison of Heritability Maps of Cortical Surface Area and Thickness and the Influence of Adjustment for Whole Brain Measures: A Magnetic Resonance Imaging Twin Study

  • Lisa T. Eyler (a1) (a2), Chi-Hua Chen (a1) (a3), Matthew S. Panizzon (a1) (a3), Christine Fennema-Notestine (a1) (a4), Michael C. Neale (a5), Amy Jak (a1) (a6), Terry L. Jernigan (a1) (a7), Bruce Fischl (a8), Carol E. Franz (a1) (a3), Michael J. Lyons (a9), Michael Grant (a9), Elizabeth Prom-Wormley (a5), Larry J. Seidman (a10), Ming T. Tsuang (a1) (a3) (a11) (a12), Mark Joseph A. Fiecas (a4), Anders M. Dale (a4) (a13) and William S. Kremen (a1) (a3) (a12)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/thg.2012.3
  • Published online: 15 June 2012
Abstract

Understanding the genetic and environmental contributions to measures of brain structure such as surface area and cortical thickness is important for a better understanding of the nature of brain-behavior relationships and changes due to development or disease. Continuous spatial maps of genetic influences on these structural features can contribute to our understanding of regional patterns of heritability, since it remains to be seen whether genetic contributions to brain structure respect the boundaries of any traditional parcellation approaches. Using data from magnetic resonance imaging scans collected on a large sample of monozygotic and dizygotic twins in the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging, we created maps of the heritability of areal expansion (a vertex-based area measure) and cortical thickness and examined the degree to which these maps were affected by adjustment for total surface area and mean cortical thickness. We also compared the approach of estimating regional heritability based on the average heritability of vertices within the region to the more traditional region-of-interest (ROI)-based approach. The results suggested high heritability across the cortex for areal expansion and, to a slightly lesser degree, for cortical thickness. There was a great deal of genetic overlap between global and regional measures for surface area, so maps of region-specific genetic influences on surface area revealed more modest heritabilities. There was greater inter-regional variability in heritabilities when calculated using the traditional ROI-based approach compared to summarizing vertex-by-vertex heritabilities within regions. Discrepancies between the approaches were greatest in small regions and tended to be larger for surface area than for cortical thickness measures. Implications regarding brain phenotypes for future genetic association studies are discussed.

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Corresponding author
address for correspondence: Lisa T. Eyler, 9500 Gilman Drive, Mail Code 9151B, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA. E-mail: lteyler@ucsd.edu
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