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Early Brain Development in Twins

This study is ongoing, but not recruiting participants.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Identifier:
First received: April 6, 2009
Last updated: April 17, 2017
Last verified: April 2017
The purpose of this study is to study the role of genes and environment in early brain development using a twin approach. The investigators will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study brain structure and it's relationship to cognitive development. Specifically, the investigators will study cortical gray and white matter volumes, volumes of subcortical structures and cerebellum, as well as diffusion properties in major white matter tracts using DTI tractography.

Twin Brain Development

Study Type: Observational
Study Design: Observational Model: Cohort
Time Perspective: Prospective
Official Title: Early Brain Development in Twins

Further study details as provided by University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:

Primary Outcome Measures:
  • Brain Gray Matter Volume [ Time Frame: Change in heritability from birth to age 6 years ]
    Will assess gray matter volume with MRI and use structural equation modeling to determine relative contributions of genes and environment to variation of gray matter volumes.

  • Brain white matter tract integrity [ Time Frame: Change in heritability from birth to age 6 years ]
    Will assess white matter tract development and integrity using diffusion tensor imaging and will determine relative contributions of genes and environment ot this using twin methodology.

Secondary Outcome Measures:
  • Mullen composite Score [ Time Frame: 1,2,4,6 years ]
    Will assess genetic and environmental contributions to early cognitive development using a twin methodology

Biospecimen Retention:   Samples With DNA
buccal swabs; MRIs, ultrasounds

Estimated Enrollment: 600
Study Start Date: April 2004
Estimated Study Completion Date: March 2020
Estimated Primary Completion Date: March 2020 (Final data collection date for primary outcome measure)
twin pairs

Detailed Description:
Twin studies have been critical in determining the contributions of genetic and environmental factors to normal brain structure and for understanding abnormalities of brain development that underlie neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. In adults and older children, twin studies indicate that genes play a significant role in the variability of global brain volumes, including total brain, total gray and total white matter volumes. Other than this current study, there have been no studies of twin brain development in early childhood, the period of brain development implicated in the pathogenesis of many psychiatric disorders. In the first funding cycle of this grant, the investigators used prenatal ultrasound and neonatal MRI to study discordance of early brain development, and to determine genetic and environmental contributions to neonatal brain structure. The investigators have and have developed a unique and valuable cohort of twins, having recruited and scanned over 100 twin pairs. The investigators found that discordance of prenatal brain size in MZ twins is similar to that in DZ twins, but that by 1 month after birth, discordance of overall brain volume in MZ twins is already less than in DZ twins. Contrary to our original hypothesis, statistical modeling of neonatal MRI brain volumes in our twin cohort indicates that global tissue volumes are highly heritable, similar to that observed in older children and adults. Therefore, it appears that genetic programs act very early in postnatal brain development to determine global tissue volumes. Interestingly, preliminary longitudinal mapping of correlations in gray matter density indicate correlations decrease in the first year of life, perhaps as the result of rapid brain growth in the first years of life. The investigators also found that while global white matter volumes are highly heritable, diffusion tensor properties of specific white matter tracts are not. In the next funding cycle, the investigators propose to continue enlarging this unique cohort and to follow them through age 6 years with structural MRI, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and developmental assessments to determine how genetic and environmental factors contribute to brain development in the first years of life.

Ages Eligible for Study:   up to 6 Years   (Child)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes
Sampling Method:   Non-Probability Sample
Study Population
medical center and community sample

Inclusion Criteria:

  • twins

Exclusion Criteria:

  • major medical, obstetrical or neurological complications
  Contacts and Locations
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Please refer to this study by its identifier: NCT01409746

United States, North Carolina
UNC Department of Psychiatry
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States, 27599
Sponsors and Collaborators
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Principal Investigator: John H Gilmore, MD University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  More Information


Responsible Party: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Identifier: NCT01409746     History of Changes
Other Study ID Numbers: 03-0989
R01MH070890-05 ( US NIH Grant/Contract Award Number )
Study First Received: April 6, 2009
Last Updated: April 17, 2017

Keywords provided by University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:
brain development
MRI processed this record on April 26, 2017