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Heritability of the limbic networks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)746-757
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number5
Early online date28 Dec 2015
Accepted/In press15 Dec 2015
E-pub ahead of print28 Dec 2015
Published5 May 2016


King's Authors


Individual differences in cognitive ability and social behaviour are influenced by the variability in the structure and function of the limbic system. A strong heritability of the limbic cortex has been previously reported, but little is known about how genetic factors influence specific limbic networks. We used diffusion tensor imaging tractography to investigate heritability of different limbic tracts in 52 monozygotic and 34 dizygotic healthy adult twins. We explored the connections that contribute to the activity of three distinct functional limbic networks, namely the dorsal cingulum (‘medial default-mode network’), the ventral cingulum and the fornix (‘hippocampal-diencephalic-retrosplenial network’) and the uncinate fasciculus (‘temporo-amygdala-orbitofrontal network’). Genetic and environmental variances were mapped for multiple tract-specific measures that reflect different aspects of the underlying anatomy. We report the highest heritability for the uncinate fasciculus, a tract that underpins emotion processing, semantic cognition, and social behaviour. High to moderate genetic and shared environmental effects were found for pathways important for social behaviour and memory, for example, fornix, dorsal and ventral cingulum. These findings indicate that within the limbic system inheritance of specific traits may rely on the anatomy of distinct networks and is higher for fronto-temporal pathways dedicated to complex social behaviour and emotional processing.

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