Heritability of volumetric brain changes and height in children entering puberty

Inge L.C. Van Soelen, Rachel M. Brouwer, G. Caroline M. Van Baal, Hugo G. Schnack, Jiska S. Peper, Lei Chen, René S. Kahn, Dorret I. Boomsma, Hilleke E.Hulshoff Pol

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35 Scopus citations


The human brain undergoes structural changes in children entering puberty, while simultaneously children increase in height. It is not known if brain changes are under genetic control, and whether they are related to genetic factors influencing the amount of overall increase in height. Twins underwent magnetic resonance imaging brain scans at age 9 (N = 190) and 12 (N = 125). High heritability estimates were found at both ages for height and brain volumes (49-96%), and high genetic correlation between ages were observed (rg > 0.89). With increasing age, whole brain (+1.1%), cerebellum (+4.2%), cerebral white matter (+5.1%), and lateral ventricle (+9.4%) volumes increased, and third ventricle (-4.0%) and cerebral gray matter (-1.6%) volumes decreased. Children increased on average 13.8 cm in height (9.9%). Genetic influences on individual difference in volumetric brain and height changes were estimated, both within and across traits. The same genetic factors influenced both cerebral (20% heritable) and cerebellar volumetric changes (45%). Thus, the extent to which changes in cerebral and cerebellar volumes are heritable in children entering puberty are due to the same genes that influence change in both structures. The increase in height was heritable (73%), and not associated with cerebral volumetric change, but positively associated with cerebellar volume change (rp = 0.24). This association was explained by a genetic correlation (rg = 0.48) between height and cerebellar change. Brain and body each expand at their own pace and through separate genetic pathways. There are distinct genetic processes acting on structural brain development, which cannot be explained by genetic increase in height. Hum Brain Mapp, 2013.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-725
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Development
  • Height
  • Heritability
  • Human brain
  • Longitudinal twin study
  • MRI


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