09:15am Monday 18 December 2017

Researchers model the role of genes and environment on human brain development during childhood and adolescence

The team included researchers from the National Institutes of Mental Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

In the study, published the week of April 21 in the Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, researchers examined 1,748 MRI scans of 792 twins and siblings at up to eight time points from childhood into adolescence. Using results from the data analysis, the researchers produced movies of the brain’s development. The movies show that heritability increases more quickly in some parts of the brain.

“From age 8 to 18 years, the cortex of the brain becomes thinner, and the differences between people reduce,” said study contributor and co-author, Michael Neale, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and human genetics in the VCU School of Medicine.

“Genetic factors play an increasing role in these differences during this critical transition from childhood to adulthood,” he said.

According to Neale, a faculty researcher at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at VCU, the study is the first of its kind to model how the genetic and environmental factors change their influence with age, across the whole cortex.

For nearly 30 years, Neale, an internationally-known expert in statistical methodology, has developed and applied statistical models in genetic studies, primarily of twins and their relatives, with the goal of better understanding the brain and behavior.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, project numbers AG022381 and MH-20030.

By Sathya Achia Abraham
University Public Affairs, VCU Across the Spectrum (www.spectrum.vcu.edu)
sbachia@vcu.edu


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