Twin MRI studies on genetic and environmental determinants of brain morphology and function in the early lifespan

Eleonora Maggioni, Letizia Squarcina, Nicola Dusi, Vaibhav A. Diwadkar, Paolo Brambilla

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Neurodevelopment represents a period of increased opportunity and vulnerability, during which a complex confluence of genetic and environmental factors influences brain growth trajectories, cognitive and mental health outcomes. Recently, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies on twins have increased our knowledge of the extent to which genes, the environment and their interactions shape inter-individual brain variability. The present review draws from highly salient MRI studies in young twin samples to provide a robust assessment of the heritability of structural and functional brain changes during development. The available studies suggest that (as with many other traits), global brain morphology and network organization are highly heritable from early childhood to young adulthood. Conversely, genetic correlations among brain regions exhibit heterogeneous trajectories, and this heterogeneity reflects the progressive, experience-related increase in brain network complexity. Studies also support the key role of environment in mediating brain network differentiation via changes of genetic expression and hormonal levels. Thus, rest- and task-related functional brain circuits seem to result from a contextual and dynamic expression of heritability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-149
Number of pages11
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Gene-environment
  • Heritability
  • Imaging-genetics
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Structural magnetic resonance imaging
  • Twin modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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