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Shaping Brain Structure: Genetic and Phylogenetic Axes of Macro Scale Organization of Cortical Thickness

By Sofie L. Valk, Ting Xu, William Gray-Roncal, Shahrzad Kahrabian Masouleh, Casey Paquola, Alexandros Goulas, Peter Kochunov, Jonathan Smallwood, B. T.T. Yeo, Boris Bernhardt, Simon B. Eickhoff

Posted 10 Feb 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.02.10.939561

Structural and functional characteristics of the cortex systematically vary along global axes as a function of cytoarchitecture, gene expression, and connectivity. The topology of the cerebral cortex has been proposed to be a prerequisite for the emergence of human cognition and explain both the impact and progression of pathology. However, the neurogenetic origin of these organizational axes in humans remains incompletely understood. To address this gap in the literature our current study assessed macro scale cortical organization through an unsupervised machine learning analysis of cortical thickness covariance patterns and used converging methods to evaluate its genetic basis. In a large-scale sample of twins (n=899) we found structural covariance of thickness to be organized along both an anterior-to-posterior and inferior-to-superior axes. We found that both axes showed a high degree of correspondence in pairs of identical twins, suggesting a strong heritable component in humans. Furthermore, comparing these dimensions in macaques and humans highlighted similar organizational principles in both species demonstrating that these axes of cortical organization are phylogenetically conserved within primate species. Finally, we found that in both humans and macaques the inferior-superior dimension of cortical organization was aligned with the predictions of the dual-origin theory, highlighting the possibility that the macroscale organization of primate brain structure is subject to multiple distinct neurodevelopmental trajectories. Together, our study establishes the genetic basis of natural axes in the cerebral cortex along which structure is organized and so provides important insights into the organization of human cognition that will inform both our understanding of how structure guides function and for the progression of pathology in diseases.

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