The Genetic Architecture of Amygdala Nuclei

Mary S. Mufford, Dennis van der Meer, Tobias Kaufmann, Oleksandr Frei, Raj Ramesar, Paul M. Thompson, Neda Jahanshad, Rajendra A. Morey, Ole A. Andreassen, Dan J. Stein, Shareefa Dalvie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Whereas genetic variants influencing total amygdala volume have been identified, the genetic architecture of its distinct nuclei has yet to be explored. We aimed to investigate whether increased phenotypic specificity through nuclei segmentation aids genetic discoverability and elucidates the extent of shared genetic architecture and biological pathways with related disorders. Methods: T1-weighted brain magnetic resonance imaging scans (N = 36,352, 52% female) from the UK Biobank were segmented into 9 amygdala nuclei with FreeSurfer (version 6.1). Genome-wide association analyses were performed on the entire sample, a European-only subset (n = 31,690), and a generalization (transancestry) subset (n = 4662). We estimated single nucleotide polymorphism–based heritability; derived polygenicity, discoverability, and power estimates; and investigated genetic correlations and shared loci with psychiatric disorders. Results: The heritability of the nuclei ranged from 0.17 to 0.33. Across the whole amygdala and the nuclei volumes, we identified 28 novel genome-wide significant (padj < 5 × 10−9) loci in the European analysis, with significant en masse replication for the whole amygdala and central nucleus volumes in the generalization analysis, and we identified 10 additional candidate loci in the combined analysis. The central nucleus had the highest statistical power for discovery. The significantly associated genes and pathways showed unique and shared effects across the nuclei, including immune-related pathways. Shared variants were identified between specific nuclei and autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Conclusions: Through investigation of amygdala nuclei volumes, we have identified novel candidate loci in the neurobiology of amygdala volume. These nuclei volumes have unique associations with biological pathways and genetic overlap with psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-84
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala nuclei
  • Genetics
  • Heritability
  • Psychiatry
  • Structural MRI
  • Trauma


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