Social processes are associated with depression, particularly understanding and responding to others, deficits in which can manifest as callousness/unemotionality (CU). Thus, CU may reflect some of the genetic risk to depression. Further, this vulnerability likely reflects the neurological substrates of depression, presenting biomarkers to capture genetic vulnerability of depression severity. However, heritability varies within brain regions, so a high-resolution genetic perspective is needed.
; In a sample of 258 same-sex twin pairs from the Colorado Longitudinal Twin Study (LTS), we developed a toolbox that maps genetic and environmental associations between brain and behavior at high resolution. We used this toolbox to estimate brain areas that are genetically associated with both depressive symptoms and CU. We then overlapped the two maps to generate coordinates that allow for tests of downstream effects of genes influencing our clusters.
; Genetic variance influencing cortical thickness in the right dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLFPC) sulci and gyri, ventral posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), pre-somatic motor cortex (PreSMA), medial precuneus, left occipital-temporal junction (OTJ), parietal-temporal junction (PTJ), ventral somatosensory cortex (vSMA), and medial and lateral precuneus were genetically associated with both depression and CU. Split-half replication found support for both DLPFC clusters. Meta-analytic term search identified “theory of mind”, “inhibit”, and “pain” as likely functions. Gene and transcript mapping/enrichment analyses implicated calcium channels.
CU reflects genetic vulnerability to depression that likely involves executive and social functioning in a distributed process across the cortex. This approach works to unify neuroimaging, neuroinformatics, and genetics to discover pathways to psychiatric vulnerability.