Cortical surface area alterations shaped by genetic load for neuroticism


Neuroticism has been shown to act as an important risk factor for major depressive disorder (MDD). Genetic and neuroimaging research has independently revealed biological correlates of neurotic personality including cortical alterations in brain regions of high relevance for affective disorders. Here we investigated the influence of a polygenic score for neuroticism (PGS) on cortical brain structure in a joint discovery sample of n = 746 healthy controls (HC) and n = 268 MDD patients. Findings were validated in an independent replication sample (n = 341 HC and n = 263 MDD). Subgroup analyses stratified for case-control status and analyses of associations between neurotic phenotype and cortical measures were carried out. PGS for neuroticism was significantly associated with a decreased cortical surface area of the inferior parietal cortex, the precuneus, the rostral cingulate cortex and the inferior frontal gyrus in the discovery sample. Similar associations between PGS and surface area of the inferior parietal cortex and the precuneus were demonstrated in the replication sample. Subgroup analyses revealed negative associations in the latter regions between PGS and surface area in both HC and MDD subjects. Neurotic phenotype was negatively correlated with surface area in similar cortical regions including the inferior parietal cortex and the precuneus. No significant associations between PGS and cortical thickness were detected. The morphometric overlap of associations between both PGS and neurotic phenotype in similar cortical regions closely related to internally focused cognition points to the potential relevance of genetically shaped cortical alterations in the development of neuroticism.

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This work was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, grant FOR2107 DA1151/5–1 and DA1151/5–2 to UD; SFB-TRR58, Projects C09 and Z02 to UD; FOR2107 KR3822/7–2, KO4291/3–1, and KR3822/5–1 to AK; JA1890/7–1 and JA1890/7–2 to AJ; NE2254/1-2 to IN; RI908/11-2 to MR; NO246/10-2 to MMN; HA7070/2-2 to TH; KI588/14-1 and KI588/14-2 to TK) and the Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research (IZKF) of the medical faculty of Münster (grant Dan3/012/17 to UD) and the Deanery of the Medical Faculty of the University of Münster.

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Correspondence to Udo Dannlowski.

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Opel, N., Amare, A.T., Redlich, R. et al. Cortical surface area alterations shaped by genetic load for neuroticism. Mol Psychiatry (2018).

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