Nature and Nurture: Brain Region-Specific Inheritance of Sleep Neurophysiology in Adolescence

Rusterholz, Thomas; Hamann, Christoph; Markovic, Andjela; Schmidt, Stefanie J.; Achermann, Peter; Tarokh, Leila (2018). Nature and Nurture: Brain Region-Specific Inheritance of Sleep Neurophysiology in Adolescence. Journal of neuroscience, 38(43), pp. 9275-9285. Society for Neuroscience 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0945-18.2018

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Sleep-specific oscillations of spindles and slow waves are generated through thalamocortical and corticocortical loops, respectively, and provide a unique opportunity to measure the integrity of these neuronal systems. Understanding the relative contribution of genetic factors to sleep oscillations is important for determining whether they constitute useful endophenotypes that mark vulnerability to psychiatric illness. Using high-density sleep EEG recordings in human adolescent twin pairs (n = 60; 28 females), we find that over posterior regions 80-90% of the variance in slow oscillations, slow wave, and spindle activity is due to genes. Surprisingly, slow (10-12 Hz) and fast (12-16 Hz) anterior spindle amplitude and σ power are largely driven by environmental factors shared among the twins. To our knowledge this is the first example of a neural phenotype that exhibits a strong influence of nature in one brain region, and nurture in another. Overall, our findings highlight the utility of the sleep EEG as a reliable and easy to measure endophenotype during adolescence. This measure may be used to measure disease risk in development before the onset of a psychiatric disorder; the location within the brain of deficits in sleep neurophysiology may suggest whether the ultimate cause is genetic or environmental. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Two cardinal oscillations of sleep, slow waves and sleep spindles, play an important role in the core functions of sleep including memory consolidation, synaptic plasticity, and the recuperative function of sleep. In this study, we use a behavioral genetics approach to examine the heritability of sleep neurophysiology using high-density EEG in a sample of early adolescent twins. Our findings reveal a strong influence of both environmental and genetic factors in shaping these oscillations, dependent on brain region. Thus, during a developmental period when brain structure and function is in flux, we find that the sleep EEG is among the most heritable of human traits over circumscribed brain regions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
04 Faculty of Medicine > University Psychiatric Services > University Hospital of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

UniBE Contributor:

Rusterholz, Thomas, Hamann, Christoph, Markovic-Widmer, Andjela, Schmidt, Stefanie Julia, Tarokh, Leila


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




Society for Neuroscience




Melanie Best

Date Deposited:

19 Nov 2018 11:55

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:19

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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