A biologically informed polygenic score of neuronal plasticity moderates the association between cognitive aptitudes and cortical thickness in adolescents
Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2023 Apr;60:101232. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2023.101232. Epub 2023 Mar 16.
Although many studies of the adolescent brain identified positive associations between cognitive abilities and cortical thickness, little is known about mechanisms underlying such brain-behavior relationships. With experience-induced plasticity playing an important role in shaping the cerebral cortex throughout life, it is likely that some of the inter-individual variations in cortical thickness could be explained by genetic variations in relevant molecular processes, as indexed by a polygenic score of neuronal plasticity (PGS-NP). Here, we studied associations between PGS-NP, cognitive abilities, and thickness of the cerebral cortex, estimated from magnetic resonance images, in the Saguenay Youth Study (SYS, 533 females, 496 males: age=15.0 ± 1.8 years of age; cross-sectional), and the IMAGEN Study (566 females, 556 males; between 14 and 19 years; longitudinal). Using Gene Ontology, we first identified 199 genes implicated in neuronal plasticity, which mapped to 155,600 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Second, we estimated their effect sizes from an educational attainment meta-GWAS to build a PGS-NP. Third, we examined a possible moderating role of PGS-NP in the relationship between performance intelligence quotient (PIQ), and its subtests, and the thickness of 34 cortical regions. In SYS, we observed a significant interaction between PGS-NP and object assembly vis-à-vis thickness in male adolescents (p = 0.026). A median-split analysis showed that, in males with a 'high' PGS-NP, stronger associations between object assembly and thickness were found in regions with larger age-related changes in thickness (r = 0.55, p = 0.00075). Although the interaction between PIQ and PGS-NP was non-significant (p = 0.064), we performed a similar median-split analysis. Again, in the high PGS-NP males, positive associations between PIQ and thickness were observed in regions with larger age-related changes in thickness (r = 0.40, p = 0.018). In the IMAGEN cohort, we did not replicate the first set of results (interaction between PGS-NP and cognitive abilities via-a-vis cortical thickness) while we did observe the same relationship between the brain-behaviour relationship and (longitudinal) changes in cortical thickness (Matrix reasoning: r = 0.63, p = 6.5e-05). No statistically significant results were observed in female adolescents in either cohort. Overall, these cross-sectional and longitudinal results suggest that molecular mechanisms involved in neuronal plasticity may contribute to inter-individual variations of cortical thickness related to cognitive abilities during adolescence in a sex-specific manner.