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Neuroimage. 2012 Feb 15;59(4):3871-80. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.11.044. Epub 2011 Dec 1.

Genetic influences on thinning of the cerebral cortex during development.

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Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Center Utrecht, Postbus 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands.


During development from childhood to adulthood the human brain undergoes considerable thinning of the cerebral cortex. Whether developmental cortical thinning is influenced by genes and if independent genetic factors influence different parts of the cortex is not known. Magnetic resonance brain imaging was done in twins at age 9 (N = 190) and again at age 12 (N = 125; 113 repeated measures) to assess genetic influences on changes in cortical thinning. We find considerable thinning of the cortex between over this three year interval (on average 0.05 mm; 1.5%), particularly in the frontal poles, and orbitofrontal, paracentral, and occipital cortices. Cortical thinning was highly heritable at age 9 and age 12, and the degree of genetic influence differed for the various areas of the brain. One genetic factor affected left inferior frontal (Broca's area), and left parietal (Wernicke's area) thinning; a second factor influenced left anterior paracentral (sensory-motor) thinning. Two factors influenced cortical thinning in the frontal poles: one of decreasing influence over time, and another independent genetic factor emerging at age 12 in left and right frontal poles. Thus, thinning of the cerebral cortex is heritable in children between the ages 9 and 12. Furthermore, different genetic factors are responsible for variation in cortical thickness at ages 9 and 12, with independent genetic factors acting on cortical thickness across time and between various brain areas during childhood brain development.

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