Topology of genetic associations between regional gray matter volume and intellectual ability: Evidence for a high capacity network

Marc M. Bohlken*, Rachel M. Brouwer, Rene C. W. Mandl, Anna M. Hedman, Martijn P. van den Heuvel, Neeltje E. M. van Haren, Rene S. Kahn, Hilleke E. Hulshoff Pol

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Intelligence is associated with a network of distributed gray matter areas including the frontal and parietal higher association cortices and primary processing areas of the temporal and occipital lobes. Efficient information transfer between gray matter regions implicated in intelligence is thought to be critical for this trait to emerge. Genetic factors implicated in intelligence and gray matter may promote a high capacity for information transfer. Whether these genetic factors act globally or on local gray matter areas separately is not known.

Brain maps of phenotypic and genetic associations between gray matter volume and intelligence were made using structural equation modeling of 3 T MRI T1-weighted scans acquired in 167 adult twins of the newly acquired U-TWIN cohort. Subsequently, structural connectivity analyses (DTI) were performed to test the hypothesis that gray matter regions associated with intellectual ability form a densely connected core.

Gray matter regions associated with intellectual ability were situated in the right prefrontal, bilateral temporal, bilateral parietal, right occipital and subcortical regions. Regions implicated in intelligence had high structural connectivity density compared to 10,000 reference networks (p = 0.031). The genetic association with intelligence was for 39% explained by a genetic source unique to these regions (independent of total brain volume), this source specifically implicated the right supramarginal gyrus.

Using a twin design, we show that intelligence is genetically represented in a spatially distributed and densely connected network of gray matter regions providing a high capacity infrastructure. Although genes for intelligence have overlap with those for total brain volume, we present evidence that there are genes for intelligence that act specifically on the subset of brain areas that form an efficient brain network. (C) 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1044-1053
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Twin
  • Heritability
  • Intelligence
  • Gray matter
  • Connectivity
  • P-FIT


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