Twin-singleton differences in brain structure using structural equation modelling

Hilleke E. Hulshoff Pol*, Daniëlle Posthuma, Wim F.C. Baaré, Eco J.C. De Geus, Hugo G. Schnack, Neeltje E.M. Van Haren, Clarine J. Van Oel, René S. Kahn, Dorret I. Boomsma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Twin studies are important to investigate genetic influences on variation in human brain morphology in health and disease. However, the twin method has been criticized for its alleged non-generalizability due to differences in the intrauterine and family environment of twins, compared with singletons. To test whether twin-singleton differences complicate interpretation of genetic contributions on variation in brain volume, brains from 112 pairs of twins and 34 of their siblings with a mean (standard deviation) age of 30.7 (9.6) years were scanned using MRI. The influence of birth order, zygosity and twin-sibling differences on brain volume measures was analysed using maximum-likelihood model fitting. Variances were homogeneous across birth order, zygosity and twin-singleton status. Irrespective of zygosity, intracranial volume was smaller in second-born twins compared with first-born twins and compared with siblings. Grey matter volume was smaller in second-born twins compared with first-born twins. White matter was smaller in twins compared with siblings. Differences in grey and white matter between these groups were no longer significant after correction for intracranial volume. Total brain, and lateral and third ventricle volumes were comparable in twins and single-tons. In conclusion, second-born twins have a smaller intracranial volume than their first-born co-twins and siblings. This suggests aberrant early brain development in second-born twins, which is consistent with the sub-optimal pre- and perinatal environment related to birth order in twins. Since other brain volume measures were comparable between the groups, twin studies can provide reliable estimates of heritabilities in brain volume measures and these can be generalized to the singleton population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-390
Number of pages7
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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