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Dev Psychopathol. 2008 Fall;20(4):1161-75. doi: 10.1017/S0954579408000552.

The changing impact of genes and environment on brain development during childhood and adolescence: initial findings from a neuroimaging study of pediatric twins.

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  • 1National Institutes of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1600, USA.


Human brain development is created through continuing complex interactions of genetic and environmental influences. The challenge of linking specific genetic or environmental risk factors to typical or atypical behaviors has led to interest in using brain structural features as an intermediate phenotype. Twin studies in adults have found that many aspects of brain anatomy are highly heritable, demonstrating that genetic factors provide a significant contribution to variation in brain structures. Less is known about the relative impact of genes and environment while the brain is actively developing. We summarize results from the ongoing National Institute of Mental Health child and adolescent twin study that suggest that heritability of different brain areas changes over the course of development in a regionally specific fashion. Areas associated with more complex reasoning abilities become increasingly heritable with maturation. The potential mechanisms by which gene-environment interactions may affect heritability values during development is discussed.

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