Familial and environmental influences on brain volumes in twins with schizophrenia

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Abstract

Background

Reductions in whole brain and grey matter volumes are robust features of schizophrenia, yet their etiological influences are unclear.

Methods

We investigated the association between the genetic and environmental risk for schizophrenia and brain volumes. Whole brain, grey matter and white matter volumes were established from structural MRIs from twins varying in their zygosity and concordance for schizophrenia. Hippocampal volumes were measured manually. We conducted between-group testing and full genetic modelling.

Results

We included 168 twins in our study. Whole brain, grey matter, white matter and right hippocampal volumes were smaller in twins with schizophrenia. Twin correlations were larger for whole brain, grey matter and white matter volumes in monozygotic than dizygotic twins and were significantly heritable, whereas hippocampal volume was the most environmentally sensitive. There was a significant phenotypic correlation between schizophrenia and reductions in all the brain volumes except for that of the left hippocampus. For whole brain, grey matter and the right hippocampus the etiological links with schizophrenia were principally associated with the shared familial environment. Lower birth weight and perinatal hypoxia were both associated with lower whole brain volume and with lower white matter and grey matter volumes, respectively.

Limitations

Scan data were collected across 2 sites, and some groups were modest in size.

Conclusion

Whole brain, grey matter and right hippocampal volume reductions are linked to schizophrenia through correlated familial risk (i.e., the shared familial environment). The degree of influence of etiological factors varies between brain structures, leading to the possibility of a neuroanatomically specific etiological imprint.

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