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Keywords:

  • twin;
  • heritability;
  • IQ;
  • thalamus;
  • MRI;
  • subcortical;
  • volumetric

Abstract

It has been shown that brain volume and general intellectual ability are to a significant extent influenced by the same genetic factors. Several cortical regions of the brain also show a genetic correlation with intellectual ability, demonstrating that intellectual functioning is probably represented in a heritable distributed network of cortical regions throughout the brain. This study is the first to investigate a genetic association between subcortical volumes and intellectual ability, taking into account the thalamus, caudate nucleus, putamen, globus pallidus, hippocampus, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens using an extended twin design. Genetic modeling was performed on a healthy adult twin sample consisting of 106 twin pairs and 30 of their siblings, IQ data was obtained from 132 subjects. Our results demonstrate that of all subcortical volumes measured, only thalamus volume is significantly correlated with intellectual functioning. Importantly, the association found between thalamus volume and intellectual ability is significantly influenced by a common genetic factor. This genetic factor is also implicated in cerebral brain volume. The thalamus, with its widespread cortical connections, may thus play a key role in human intelligence. Hum Brain Mapp 35:2632–2642, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.