Modern non-invasive brain imaging technologies, such as diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI), enable the mapping of neural fiber tracts in the white matter, providing a basis to reconstruct a detailed map of brain structural connectivity networks. Brain connectivity networks differ from random networks in their topology, which can be measured using small worldness, modularity, and high-degree nodes (hubs). Still, little is known about how individual differences in structural brain network properties relate to age, sex, or genetic differences. Recently, some groups have reported brain network biomarkers that enable differentiation among individuals, pairs of individuals, and groups of individuals. In addition to studying new topological features, here we provide a unifying general method to investigate topological brain networks and connectivity differences between individuals, pairs of individuals, and groups of individuals at several levels of the data hierarchy, while appropriately controlling false discovery rate (FDR) errors. We apply our new method to a large dataset of high quality brain connectivity networks obtained from High Angular Resolution Diffusion Imaging (HARDI) tractography in 303 young adult twins, siblings, and unrelated people. Our proposed approach can accurately classify brain connectivity networks based on sex (93% accuracy) and kinship (88.5% accuracy). We find statistically significant differences associated with sex and kinship both in the brain connectivity networks and in derived topological metrics, such as the clustering coefficient and the communicability matrix.
Anatomical brain connectivity; Complex networks; Diffusion weighted MRI; Topological analysis; Hierarchical analysis; False discovery rate; Sex and kinship brain network differences
Large multi-site image-analysis studies have successfully discovered genetic variants that affect brain structure in tens of thousands of subjects scanned worldwide. Candidate genes have also associated with brain integrity, measured using fractional anisotropy in diffusion tensor images (DTI). To evaluate the heritability and robustness of DTI measures as a target for genetic analysis, we compared 417 twins and siblings scanned on the same day on the same high field scanner (4-Tesla) with two protocols: (1) 94-directions; 2mm-thick slices, (2) 27-directions; 5mm-thickness. Using mean FA in white matter ROIs and FA ‘skeletons’ derived using FSL, we (1) examined differences in voxelwise means, variances, and correlations among the measures; and (2) assessed heritability with structural equation models, using the classical twin design. FA measures from the genu of the corpus callosum were highly heritable, regardless of protocol. Genome-wide analysis of the genu mean FA revealed differences across protocols in the top associations.
imaging genetics; DTI protocol stability; corpus callosum; genome-wide association study; multi-site analysis
Graph theory can be applied to matrices that represent the brain’s anatomical connections, to better understand global properties of anatomical networks, such as their clustering, efficiency and “small-world” topology. Network analysis is popular in adult studies of connectivity, but only one study – in just 30 subjects – has examined how network measures change as the brain develops over this period. Here we assessed the developmental trajectory of graph theory metrics of structural brain connectivity in a cross-sectional study of 467 subjects, aged 12 to 30. We computed network measures from 70×70 connectivity matrices of fiber density generated using whole-brain tractography in 4-Tesla 105-gradient high angular resolution diffusion images (HARDI). We assessed global efficiency and modularity, and both age and age2 effects were identified. HARDI-based connectivity maps are sensitive to the remodeling and refinement of structural brain connections as the human brain develops.
graph theory; high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI); tractography; network analyses; development; structural connectivity
Human brain connectivity is disrupted in a wide range of disorders – from Alzheimer’s disease to autism – but little is known about which specific genes affect it. Here we conducted a genome-wide association for connectivity matrices that capture information on the density of fiber connections between 70 brain regions. We scanned a large twin cohort (N=366) with 4-Tesla high angular resolution diffusion imaging (105-gradient HARDI). Using whole brain HARDI tractography, we extracted a relatively sparse 70×70 matrix representing fiber density between all pairs of cortical regions automatically labeled in co-registered anatomical scans. Additive genetic factors accounted for 1–58% of the variance in connectivity between 90 (of 122) tested nodes. We discovered genome-wide significant associations between variants and connectivity. GWAS permutations at various levels of heritability, and split-sample replication, validated our genetic findings. The resulting genes may offer new leads for mechanisms influencing aberrant connectivity and neurodegeneration.
genetics; high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI); cortical surfaces; twin modeling; human connectome
The present study explored whether semantic and motor systems are functionally interwoven via the use of a dual-task paradigm. According to embodied language accounts that propose an automatic and necessary involvement of the motor system in conceptual processing, concurrent processing of hand-related information should interfere more with hand movements than processing of unrelated body-part (i.e., foot, mouth) information. Across three experiments, 100 right-handed participants performed left- or right-hand tapping movements while repeatedly reading action words related to different body-parts, or different body-part names, in both aloud and silent conditions. Concurrent reading of single words related to specific body-parts, or the same words embedded in sentences differing in syntactic and phonological complexity (to manipulate context-relevant processing), and reading while viewing videos of the actions and body-parts described by the target words (to elicit visuomotor associations) all interfered with right-hand but not left-hand tapping rate. However, this motor interference was not affected differentially by hand-related stimuli. Thus, the results provide no support for proposals that body-part specific resources in cortical motor systems are shared between overt manual movements and meaning-related processing of words related to the hand.
action representations; embodied language; motor system; word meaning
A major challenge in neuroscience is finding which genes affect brain integrity, connectivity, and intellectual function. Discovering influential genes holds vast promise for neuroscience, but typical genome-wide searches assess around one million genetic variants one-by-one, leading to intractable false positive rates, even with vast samples of subjects. Even more intractable is the question of which genes interact and how they work together to affect brain connectivity. Here we report a novel approach that discovers which genes contribute to brain wiring and fiber integrity at all pairs of points in a brain scan. We studied genetic correlations between thousands of points in human brain images from 472 twins and their non-twin siblings (mean age: 23.7±2.1 SD years; 193 M/279 F). We combined clustering with genome-wide scanning to find brain systems with common genetic determination. We then filtered the image in a new way to boost power to find causal genes. Using network analysis, we found a network of genes that affect brain wiring in healthy young adults. Our new strategy makes it more computationally tractable to discover genes that affect brain integrity. The gene network showed small-world and scale-free topologies, suggesting efficiency in genetic interactions, and resilience to network disruption. Genetic variants at hubs of the network influence intellectual performance by modulating associations between performance intelligence quotient (IQ) and the integrity of major white matter tracts, such as the callosal genu and splenium, cingulum, optic radiations, and the superior longitudinal fasciculus.
imaging genetics; twins; white matter; diffusion imaging; intelligence quotient; scale-free network; small-world network
The NTRK1 gene (also known as TRKA) encodes a high affinity receptor for NGF, a neurotrophin involved in nervous system development and myelination. NTRK1 has been implicated in neurological function via links between the T allele at rs6336 (NTRK1-T) and schizophrenia risk. A variant in the neurotrophin gene, BDNF, was previously associated with white matter integrity in young adults, highlighting the importance of neurotrophins to white matter development. We hypothesized that NTRK1-T would relate to lower FA in healthy adults.
We scanned 391 healthy adult human twins and their siblings (mean age: 23.6 ± 2.2 years; 31 NTRK1-T carriers, 360 non-carriers) using 105-gradient diffusion tensor imaging at 4 Tesla. We evaluated in brain white matter how NTRK1-T and NTRK1 rs4661063 allele A (rs4661063-A, which is in moderate linkage disequilibrium with rs6336) related to voxelwise fractional anisotropy – a common diffusion tensor imaging measure of white matter microstructure. We used mixed-model regression to control for family relatedness, age, and sex. The sample was split in half to test results reproducibility. The false discovery rate method corrected for voxelwise multiple comparisons.
NTRK1-T and rs4661063-A correlated with lower white matter fractional anisotropy, independent of age and sex (multiple comparisons corrected: false discovery rate critical p = 0.038 for NTRK1-T and 0.013 for rs4661063-A). In each half-sample, the NTRK1-T effect was replicated in the cingulum, corpus callosum, superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, superior corona radiata, and uncinate fasciculus. Our results suggest that NTRK1-T is important for developing white matter microstructure.
Recently, carriers of a common variant in the autism risk gene, CNTNAP2, were found to have altered functional brain connectivity using functional MRI. Here we scanned 328 young adults with high-field (4-Tesla) diffusion imaging, to test the hypothesis that carriers of this gene variant would have altered structural brain connectivity. All participants (209 females, 119 males, age: 23.4 +/−2.17 SD years) were scanned with 105-gradient high angular diffusion imaging (HARDI) at 4 Tesla. After performing a whole-brain fiber tractography using the full angular resolution of the diffusion scans, 70 cortical surface-based regions of interest were created from each individual’s co-registered anatomical data to compute graph metrics for all pairs of cortical regions. In graph theory analyses, subjects homozygous for the risk allele (CC) had lower characteristic path length, greater small-worldness and global efficiency in whole brain analyses, as well as greater eccentricity (maximum path length) in 60 of 70 nodes in regional analyses. These results were not reducible to differences in more commonly studied traits such as fiber density or fractional anisotropy. This is the first study to link graph theory metrics of brain structural connectivity to a common genetic variant linked with autism and will help us understand the neurobiology of circuits implicated in risk for autism.
structural connectivity; HARDI; autism; CNTNAP2; graph theory; twins
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays a key role in learning and memory, but its effects on the fiber architecture of the living brain are unknown. We genotyped 455 healthy adult twins and their non-twin siblings (188 males/267 females; age: 23.7±2.1 years, mean±SD) and scanned them with high angular resolution diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to assess how the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism affects white matter microstructure. By applying genetic association analysis to every 3D point in the brain images, we found that the Val-BDNF genetic variant was associated with lower white matter integrity in the splenium of the corpus callosum, left optic radiation, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, and superior corona radiata. Normal BDNF variation influenced the association between subjects’ performance intellectual ability (as measured by Object Assembly subtest) and fiber integrity (as measured by fractional anisotropy; FA) in the callosal splenium, and pons. The BDNF gene may affect intellectual performance by modulating white matter development. This combination of genetic association analysis and large-scale diffusion imaging directly relates a specific gene to the fiber microstructure of the living brain and to human intelligence.
BDNF; twins; diffusion imaging; cognition; imaging genomics; white matter
The caudate is a subcortical brain structure implicated in many common neurological and psychiatric disorders. To identify specific genes associated with variations in caudate volume, structural MRI and genome-wide genotypes were acquired from two large cohorts, the Alzheimer’s Disease NeuroImaging Initiative (ADNI; N=734) and the Brisbane Adolescent/Young Adult Longitudinal Twin Study (BLTS; N=464). In a preliminary analysis of heritability, around 90% of the variation in caudate volume was due to genetic factors. We then conducted genome-wide association to find common variants that contribute to this relatively high heritability. Replicated genetic association was found for the right caudate volume at SNP rs163030 in the ADNI discovery sample (P=2.36×10−6) and in the BLTS replication sample (P=0.012). This genetic variation accounted for 2.79% and 1.61% of the trait variance, respectively. The peak of association was found in and around two genes, WDR41 and PDE8B, involved in dopamine signaling and development. In addition, a previously identified mutation in PDE8B causes a rare autosomal-dominant type of striatal degeneration. Searching across both samples offers a rigorous way to screen for genes consistently influencing brain structure at different stages of life. Variants identified here may be relevant to common disorders affecting the caudate.
genome-wide association; dopamine; caudate; heritability; WDR41; PDE8B (3-6 needed)
We analyzed brain MRI data from 372 young adult twins to identify cortical regions in which gray matter thickness and volume are influenced by genetics. This was achieved using a A/C/E structural equation model that divides the variance of these traits, at each point on the cortex, into additive genetic (A), shared (C) and unique environmental (E) components. A strong genetic influence was found in frontal and parietal regions. Additionally, we correlated cortical thickness with full-scale IQ for comparison with the A/C/E maps, and several regions where cortical structure was correlated with IQ are under genetic control. These cortical measures may be useful phenotypes to narrow the search for quantitative trait loci influencing brain structure.
brain; image analysis; magnetic resonance imaging; cortex; genetics
White matter microstructure is under strong genetic control, yet it is largely unknown how genetic influences change from childhood into adulthood. In one of the largest brain mapping studies ever performed, we determined whether the genetic control over white matter architecture depends on age, sex, socioeconomic status (SES), and intelligence quotient (IQ). We assessed white matter integrity voxelwise using diffusion tensor imaging at high magnetic field (4-Tesla), in 705 twins and their siblings (age range 12–29; 290 M/415 F). White matter integrity was quantified using a widely accepted measure, fractional anisotropy (FA). We fitted gene-environment interaction models pointwise, to visualize brain regions where age, sex, SES and IQ modulate heritability of fiber integrity. We hypothesized that environmental factors would start to outweigh genetic factors during late childhood and adolescence. Genetic influences were greater in adolescence versus adulthood, and greater in males than in females. Socioeconomic status significantly interacted with genes that affect fiber integrity: heritability was higher in those with higher SES. In people with above-average IQ, genetic factors explained over 800% of the observed FA variability in the thalamus, genu, posterior internal capsule, and superior corona radiata. In those with below-average IQ, however, only around 40% FA variability in the same regions was attributable to genetic factors. Genes affect fiber integrity, but their effects vary with age, sex, SES and IQ. Gene-environment interactions are vital to consider in the search for specific genetic polymorphisms that affect brain integrity and connectivity.
genetics; cognition; twins; white matter; diffusion imaging; gene-environment interaction
Although key to understanding individual variation in task-related brain activation, the genetic contribution to these individual differences remains largely unknown. Here we report voxel-by-voxel genetic model fitting in a large sample of 319 healthy, young adult, human identical and fraternal twins (mean age 23.6±1.8 S.D.) who performed an n-back working memory task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at high magnetic field (4 Tesla). Patterns of task-related brain response (BOLD signal difference of 2-back minus 0-back) were significantly heritable, with the highest estimates (40 – 65%) in the inferior, middle, and superior frontal gyri, left supplementary motor area, pre- and postcentral gyri, middle cingulate cortex, superior medial gyrus, angular gyrus, superior parietal lobule, including precuneus, and superior occipital gyri. Furthermore, high test-retest reliability for a subsample of 40 twins indicates that non-genetic variance in the fMRI brain response is largely due to unique environmental influences rather than measurement error. Individual variations in activation of the working memory network are therefore significantly influenced by genetic factors. By establishing the heritability of cognitive brain function in a large sample that affords good statistical power, and using voxel-by-voxel analyses, this study provides the necessary evidence for task-related brain activation to be considered as an endophenotype for psychiatric or neurological disorders, and represents a substantial new contribution to the field of neuroimaging genetics. These genetic brain maps should facilitate discovery of gene variants influencing cognitive brain function through genome-wide association studies, potentially opening up new avenues in the treatment of brain disorders.
twin study; heritability; genetic modeling; functional MRI; working memory; voxel-based analysis
We implemented least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) regression to evaluate gene effects in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of brain images, using an MRI-derived temporal lobe volume measure from 729 subjects scanned as part of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). Sparse groups of SNPs in individual genes were selected by LASSO, which identifies efficient sets of variants influencing the data. These SNPs were considered jointly when assessing their association with neuroimaging measures. We discovered 22 genes that passed genome-wide significance for influencing temporal lobe volume. This was a substantially greater number of significant genes compared to those found with standard, univariate GWAS. These top genes are all expressed in the brain and include genes previously related to brain function or neuropsychiatric disorders such as MACROD2, SORCS2, GRIN2B, MAGI2, NPAS3, CLSTN2, GABRG3, NRXN3, PRKAG2, GAS7, RBFOX1, ADARB2, CHD4, and CDH13. The top genes we identified with this method also displayed significant and widespread post hoc effects on voxelwise, tensor-based morphometry (TBM) maps of the temporal lobes. The most significantly associated gene was an autism susceptibility gene known as MACROD2. We were able to successfully replicate the effect of the MACROD2 gene in an independent cohort of 564 young, Australian healthy adult twins and siblings scanned with MRI (mean age: 23.8 ± 2.2 SD years). Our approach powerfully complements univariate techniques in detecting influences of genes on the living brain.
neuroimaging; MRI; imaging genetics; GWAS; LASSO; MACROD2
There is a strong genetic risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but so far few gene variants have been identified that reliably contribute to that risk. A newly confirmed genetic risk allele C of the clusterin (CLU) gene variant rs11136000 is carried by approximately 88% of Caucasians. The C allele confers a 1.16 greater odds of developing late-onset AD than the T allele. AD patients have reductions in regional white matter integrity. We evaluated whether the CLU risk variant was similarly associated with lower white matter integrity in healthy young humans. Evidence of early brain differences would offer a target for intervention decades before symptom onset.
We scanned 398 healthy young adults (mean age 23.6 ± 2.2 years) with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a variation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sensitive to white matter integrity in the living brain. We assessed genetic associations using mixed model regression at each point in the brain to map the profile of these associations with white matter integrity.
Each C allele copy of the CLU variant was associated with lower fractional anisotropy (FA) - a widely accepted measure of white matter integrity- in multiple brain regions, including several known to degenerate in AD. These regions included the splenium of the corpus callosum, the fornix, cingulum, and superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi in both brain hemispheres.
Young healthy carriers of the CLU gene risk variant showed a distinct profile of lower white matter integrity that may increase vulnerability to developing AD later in life.
Clusterin; white matter; diffusion tensor imaging; fractional anisotropy; MRI; splenium
Brain asymmetry, or the structural and functional specialization of each brain hemisphere, has fascinated neuroscientists for over a century. Even so, genetic and environmental factors that influence brain asymmetry are largely unknown. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) now allows asymmetry to be studied at a microscopic scale by examining differences in fiber characteristics across hemispheres rather than differences in structure shapes and volumes. Here we analyzed 4 Tesla DTI scans from 374 healthy adults, including 60 monozygotic twin pairs, 45 same-sex dizygotic pairs, and 164 mixed-sex DZ twins and their siblings; mean age: 24.4 years +/− 1.9SD). All DTI scans were nonlinearly aligned to a geometrically-symmetric, population-based image template. We computed voxel-wise maps of significant asymmetries (left/right differences) for common diffusion measures that reflect fiber integrity (fractional and geodesic anisotropy; FA, GA and mean diffusivity, MD). In quantitative genetic models computed from all same-sex twin pairs (N=210 subjects), genetic factors accounted for 33% of the variance in asymmetry for the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, 37% for the anterior thalamic radiation, and 20% for the forceps major and uncinate fasciculus (all L>R). Shared environmental factors accounted for around 15% of the variance in asymmetry for the cortico-spinal tract (R>L) and about 10% for the forceps minor (L>R). Sex differences in asymmetry (men > women) were significant, and were greatest in regions with prominent FA asymmetries. These maps identify heritable DTI-derived features, and may empower genome-wide searches for genetic polymorphisms that influence brain asymmetry.
DTI; brain asymmetry; fractional anisotropy; geodesic anisotropy; structural equation model; twins; quantitative genetics; path analysis
There is a major effort in medical imaging to develop algorithms to extract information from DTI and HARDI, which provide detailed information on brain integrity and connectivity. As the images have recently advanced to provide extraordinarily high angular resolution and spatial detail, including an entire manifold of information at each point in the 3D images, there has been no readily available means to view the results. This impedes developments in HARDI research, which need some method to check the plausibility and validity of image processing operations on HARDI data or to appreciate data features or invariants that might serve as a basis for new directions in image segmentation, registration, and statistics. We present a set of tools to provide interactive display of HARDI data, including both a local rendering application and an off-screen renderer that works with a web-based viewer. Visualizations are presented after registration and averaging of HARDI data from 90 human subjects, revealing important details for which there would be no direct way to appreciate using conventional display of scalar images.
A key question in diffusion imaging is how many diffusion-weighted images suffice to provide adequate signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) for studies of fiber integrity. Motion, physiological effects, and scan duration all affect the achievable SNR in real brain images, making theoretical studies and simulations only partially useful. We therefore scanned 50 healthy adults with 105-gradient high-angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) at 4 Tesla. From gradient image subsets of varying size (6≤N≤94) that optimized a spherical angular distribution energy, we created SNR plots (versus gradient numbers) for seven common diffusion anisotropy indices: fractional and relative anisotropy (FA, RA), mean diffusivity (MD), volume ratio (VR), geodesic anisotropy (GA), its hyperbolic tangent (tGA), and generalized fractional anisotropy (GFA). SNR, defined in a region of interest in the corpus callosum, was near-maximal with 58, 66 and 62 gradients for MD, FA and RA in respectively, and with about 55 gradients for GA and tGA. For VR and GFA, SNR increased rapidly with more gradients. SNR was optimized when the ratio of diffusion-sensitized to non-sensitized images was 9.13 for GA and tGA, 10.57 for FA, 9.17 for RA, and 26 for MD and VR. In orientation density functions modeling the HARDI signal as a continuous mixture of tensors, the diffusion profile reconstruction accuracy rose rapidly with additional gradients. These plots may help in making trade-off decisions when designing diffusion imaging protocols.
High-Angular Resolution Diffusion imaging; anisotropic scalar; generalized fractional anisotropy; tensor; Signal-to-Noise ratio; Kullback-Leibler divergence
We developed an analysis pipeline enabling population studies of HARDI data, and applied it to map genetic influences on fiber architecture in 90 twin subjects. We applied tensor-driven 3D fluid registration to HARDI, re-sampling the spherical fiber orientation distribution functions (ODFs) in appropriate Riemannian manifolds, after ODF regularization and sharpening. Fitting structural equation models (SEM) from quantitative genetics, we evaluated genetic influences on the Jensen-Shannon divergence (JSD), a novel measure of fiber spatial coherence, and on the generalized fiber anisotropy (GFA; ) a measure of fiber integrity. With random-effects regression, we mapped regions where diffusion profiles were highly correlated with subjects' intelligence quotient (IQ). Fiber complexity was predominantly under genetic control, and higher in more highly anisotropic regions; the proportion of genetic versus environmental control varied spatially. Our methods show promise for discovering genes affecting fiber connectivity in the brain.
Genetic and environmental factors influence brain structure and function profoundly The search for heritable anatomical features and their influencing genes would be accelerated with detailed 3D maps showing the degree to which brain morphometry is genetically determined. As part of an MRI study that will scan 1150 twins, we applied Tensor-Based Morphometry to compute morphometric differences in 23 pairs of identical twins and 23 pairs of same-sex fraternal twins (mean age: 23.8 ± 1.8 SD years). All 92 twins’ 3D brain MRI scans were nonlinearly registered to a common space using a Riemannian fluid-based warping approach to compute volumetric differences across subjects. A multi-template method was used to improve volume quantification. Vector fields driving each subject’s anatomy onto the common template were analyzed to create maps of local volumetric excesses and deficits relative to the standard template. Using a new structural equation modeling method, we computed the voxelwise proportion of variance in volumes attributable to additive (A) or dominant (D) genetic factors versus shared environmental (C) or unique environmental factors (E). The method was also applied to various anatomical regions of interest (ROIs). As hypothesized, the overall volumes of the brain, basal ganglia, thalamus, and each lobe were under strong genetic control; local white matter volumes were mostly controlled by common environment. After adjusting for individual differences in overall brain scale, genetic influences were still relatively high in the corpus callosum and in early-maturing brain regions such as the occipital lobes, while environmental influences were greater in frontal brain regions which have a more protracted maturational time-course.
Despite substantial progress in measuring the anatomical and functional variability of the human brain, little is known about the genetic and environmental causes of these variations. Here we developed an automated system to visualize genetic and environmental effects on brain structure in large brain MRI databases. We applied our multi-template segmentation approach termed “Multi-Atlas Fluid Image Alignment” to fluidly propagate hand-labeled parameterized surface meshes, labeling the lateral ventricles, in 3D volumetric MRI scans of 76 identical (monozygotic, MZ) twins (38 pairs; mean age=24.6 (SD=1.7)); and 56 same-sex fraternal (dizygotic, DZ) twins (28 pairs; mean age=23.0 (SD=1.8)), scanned as part of a 5-year research study that will eventually study over 1000 subjects. Mesh surfaces were averaged within subjects to minimize segmentation error. We fitted quantitative genetic models at each of 30,000 surface points to measure the proportion of shape variance attributable to (1) genetic differences among subjects, (2) environmental influences unique to each individual, and (3) shared environmental effects. Surface-based statistical maps, derived from path analysis, revealed patterns of heritability, and their significance, in 3D. Path coefficients for the ‘ACE’ model that best fitted the data indicated significant contributions from genetic factors (A=7.3%), common environment (C=38.9%) and unique environment (E=53.8%) to lateral ventricular volume. Earlier-maturing occipital horn regions may also be more genetically influenced than later-maturing frontal regions. Maps visualized spatially-varying profiles of environmental versus genetic influences. The approach shows promise for automatically measuring gene-environment effects in large image databases.
As research encompassing neuroimaging and genetics gains momentum, extraordinary information will be uncovered on the genetic architecture of the human brain. However, there are significant challenges to be addressed first. Not the least of these challenges is to accomplish the sample size necessary to detect subtle genetic influences on the morphometry and function of the healthy brain. Aside from sample size, image acquisition and analysis methods need to be refined in order to ensure optimum sensitivity to genetic and complementary environmental influences. Then there is the vexing issue of interpreting the resulting data. We describe how researchers from the east coast of Australia and the west coast of America have embarked upon a collaboration to meet these challenges using data currently being collected from a large-scale twin study, and offer some opinions about future directions in the field.
Neuroimaging; Genetics; Heritability; High-angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI); ACE modeling
The paper is the first to analyze genetic and environmental factors that affect brain fiber architecture and its genetic linkage with cognitive function. We assessed white matter integrity voxelwise using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) at high magnetic field (4 Tesla), in 92 identical and fraternal twins. White matter integrity, quantified using fractional anisotropy (FA), was used to fit structural equation models (SEM) at each point in the brain, generating 3D maps of heritability. We visualized the anatomical profile of correlations between white matter integrity and full-scale, verbal, and performance intelligence quotients (FIQ, VIQ, and PIQ). White matter integrity (FA) was under strong genetic control and was highly heritable in bilateral frontal (a2 = 0.55, P = 0.04, left; a2 = 0.74, P = 0.006, right), bilateral parietal (a2 = 0.85, P < 0.001, left; a2 = 0.84, P < 0.001, right) and left occipital (a2 = 0.76, P = 0.003) lobes, and was correlated with FIQ and PIQ in the cingulum, optic radiations, superior fronto-occipital fasciculus, internal capsule, callosal isthmus, and the corona radiata (P = 0.04 for FIQ and P = 0.01 for PIQ, corrected for multiple comparisons). In a cross-trait mapping approach, common genetic factors mediated the correlation between IQ and white matter integrity, suggesting a common physiological mechanism for both, and common genetic determination. These genetic brain maps reveal heritable aspects of white matter integrity and should expedite the discovery of single-nucleotide polymorphisms affecting fiber connectivity and cognition.
genetics; cognition; twins; white matter; diffusion imaging; structural equations
Working memory-related brain activation has been widely studied, and impaired activation patterns have been reported for several psychiatric disorders. We investigated whether variation in N-back working memory brain activation is genetically influenced in 60 pairs of twins, (29 monozygotic (MZ), 31 dizygotic (DZ); mean age 24.4 ± 1.7S.D.). Task-related brain response (BOLD percent signal difference of 2 minus 0-back) was measured in three regions of interest. Although statistical power was low due to the small sample size, for middle frontal gyrus, angular gyrus, and supramarginal gyrus, the MZ correlations were, in general, approximately twice those of the DZ pairs, with non-significant heritability estimates (14–30%) in the low-moderate range. Task performance was strongly influenced by genes (57–73%) and highly correlated with cognitive ability (0.44–0.55). This study, which will be expanded over the next 3 years, provides the first support that individual variation in working memory-related brain activation is to some extent influenced by genes.
Twin study; Heritability; fMRI; Working memory; Dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex; Multivariate genetic modelling; Individual differences
We developed and validated a new method to create automated 3D parametric surface models of the lateral ventricles in brain MRI scans, providing an efficient approach to monitor degenerative disease in clinical studies and drug trials. First, we used a set of parameterized surfaces to represent the ventricles in four subjects’ manually labeled brain MRI scans (atlases). We fluidly registered each atlas and mesh model to MRIs from 17 Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients and 13 age-and gender-matched healthy elderly control subjects, and 18 asymptomatic ApoE4-carriers and 18 age- and gender-matched non-carriers. We examined genotyped healthy subjects with the goal of detecting subtle effects of a gene that confers heightened risk for Alzheimer’s disease. We averaged the meshes extracted for each 3D MR data set, and combined the automated segmentations with a radial mapping approach to localize ventricular shape differences in patients. Validation experiments comparing automated and expert manual segmentations showed that (1) the Hausdorff labeling error rapidly decreased, and (2) the power to detect disease- and gene-related alterations improved, as the number of atlases, N, was increased from 1 to 9. In surface-based statistical maps, we detected more widespread and intense anatomical deficits as we increased the number of atlases. We formulated a statistical stopping criterion to determine the optimal number of atlases to use. Healthy ApoE4-carriers and those with AD showed local ventricular abnormalities. This high-throughput method for morphometric studies further motivates the combination of genetic and neuroimaging strategies in predicting AD progression and treatment response.