The role of genes and environment on brain alterations in Major Depressive Disorder: A review of twin studies

A. Pigoni, G. Delvecchio, A. C. Altamura, J. C. Soares, C. Fagnani, P. Brambilla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Although it has been consistently reported the important role of genetic and environmental risk factors on structural and functional alterations in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), the mechanism and the magnitude of the interactions between specific genetic and/or environmental risk factors on brain structures in this disabling disorder are still elusive. Therefore, in the last two decades an increased interest has been devoted to neuroimaging investigations on monozygotic and dizygotic twin samples mainly because their intrinsic characteristics may help to separate the effects of genetic and environmental risk factors on clinical phenotypes, including MDD. Methods: In this context, the present review summarizes results from structural and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging studies that investigated twin samples in correlation with MDD. Results: Overall the results confirmed that a) MDD is characterized by significant alterations in selective brain areas presiding over emotion recognition and evaluation, including amygdala, insula and prefrontal cortices, and b) both genetic and environmental risk factors play a key role in the pathophysiology of this disorder. Limitations: Few MRI studies exploring MDD in twin samples. Conclusions: The specific contribution of both aspects is still not fully elucidated especially because genes and environment have an impact on the same brain areas, which are particularly vulnerable in MDD. Expansion of the current twin sample sizes would help to clearly establish the potential relationship between risk factors and the development of MDD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-350
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Environment
  • Genes
  • Major Depressive Disorders
  • Structural and functional alterations
  • Twins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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