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Genetic and environmental influences on mean diffusivity and volume in subcortical brain regions.

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Increased mean diffusivity (MD) is hypothesized to reflect tissue degeneration and may provide subtle indicators of neuropathology as well as age-related brain changes in the absence of volumetric differences. Our aim was to determine the degree to which genetic and environmental variation in subcortical MD is distinct from variation in subcortical volume. Data were derived from a sample of 387 male twins (83 MZ twin pairs, 55 DZ twin pairs, and 111 incomplete twin pairs) who were MRI scanned as part of the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging. Quantitative estimates of MD and volume for 7 subcortical regions were obtained: thalamus, caudate nucleus, putamen, pallidum, hippocampus, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens. After adjusting for covariates, bivariate twin models were fitted to estimate the size and significance of phenotypic, genotypic, and environmental correlations between MD and volume at each subcortical region. With the exception of the amygdala, familial aggregation in MD was entirely explained by additive genetic factors across all subcortical regions with estimates ranging from 46 to 84%. Based on bivariate twin modeling, variation in subcortical MD appears to be both genetically and environmentally unrelated to individual differences in subcortical volume. Therefore, subcortical MD may be an alternative biomarker of brain morphology for complex traits worthy of future investigation. Hum Brain Mapp 38:2589-2598, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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