This investigation examined whether the variation of cerebral structure is associated with genetic or environmental factors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with typically developing (TD) controls. T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging scans were obtained from twin pairs (aged 6-15 years) in which at least one twin was diagnosed with ASD or both were TD. Good quality data were available from 30 ASD, 18 discordant, and 34 TD pairs (n = 164). Structural measures (volume, cortical thickness, and surface area) were generated with FreeSurfer, and ACE modeling was completed. Lobar structures were primarily genetically mediated in TD twins (a2 = 0.60-0.89), except thickness of the temporal (a2 = 0.33 [0.04, 0.63]) and occipital lobes (c2 = 0.61 [0.45, 0.77]). Lobar structures were also predominantly genetically mediated in twins with ASD (a2 = 0.70-1.00); however, thickness of the frontal (c2 = 0.81 [0.71, 0.92]), temporal (c2 = 0.77 [0.60, 0.93]), and parietal lobes (c2 = 0.87 [0.77, 0.97]), and frontal gray matter (GM) volume (c2 = 0.79 [0.63, 0.95]), were associated with environmental factors. Conversely, occipital thickness (a2 = 0.93 [0.75, 1.11]) did not exhibit the environmental contributions that were found in controls. Differences in GM volume were associated with social communication impairments for the frontal (r = 0.52 [0.18, 0.75]), temporal (r = 0.61 [0.30, 0.80]), and parietal lobes (r = 0.53 [0.19, 0.76]). To our knowledge, this is the first investigation to suggest that environmental factors influence GM to a larger extent in children with ASD, especially in the frontal lobe.
View details for DOI 10.1093/cercor/bhz215
View details for PubMedID 31711118