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Reduced variance in monozygous twins for multiple MR parameters : implications for disease studies and the genetic basis of brain structure

Publication Date
  • 110900 Neurosciences
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Monozygotic Twins
  • Genetic Variability
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine


Twin studies offer the opportunity to determine the relative contribution of genes versus environment in traits of interest. Here, we investigate the extent to which variance in brain structure is reduced in monozygous twins with identical genetic make-up. We investigate whether using twins as compared to a control population reduces variability in a number of common magnetic resonance (MR) structural measures, and we investigate the location of areas under major genetic influences. This is fundamental to understanding the benefit of using twins in studies where structure is the phenotype of interest. Twenty-three pairs of healthy MZ twins were compared to matched control pairs. Volume, T2 and diffusion MR imaging were performed as well as spectroscopy (MRS). Images were compared using (i) global measures of standard deviation and effect size, (ii) voxel-based analysis of similarity and (iii) intra-pair correlation. Global measures indicated a consistent increase in structural similarity in twins. The voxel-based and correlation analyses indicated a widespread pattern of increased similarity in twin pairs, particularly in frontal and temporal regions. The areas of increased similarity were most widespread for the diffusion trace and least widespread for T2. MRS showed consistent reduction in metabolite variation that was significant in the temporal lobe N-acetylaspartate (NAA). This study has shown the distribution and magnitude of reduced variability in brain volume, diffusion, T2 and metabolites in twins. The data suggest that evaluation of twins discordant for disease is indeed a valid way to attribute genetic or environmental influences to observed abnormalities in patients since evidence is provided for the underlying assumption of decreased variability in twins.

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