Twin Research and Human Genetics


Brain Activation During Response Interference in Twins Discordant or Concordant for Obsessive Compulsive Symptoms

Anouk den Brabera1 c1, Dennis van ‘t Enta1, Danielle C. Catha2, Dick J. Veltmana3, Dorret I. Boomsmaa1 and Eco J. C. de Geusa1

a1 Department of Biological Psychology, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

a2 Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Utrecht University, and Altrecht Academic Anxiety Center, Utrecht, The Netherlands

a3 Department of Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


One of the core behavioral features associated with obsessive compulsive symptomatology is the inability to inhibit thoughts and/or behaviors. Neuroimaging studies have indicated abnormalities in frontostriatal and dorsolateral prefrontal – anterior cingulate circuits during inhibitory control in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder compared with controls. In the present study, task performance and brain activation during Stroop color-word and Flanker interference were compared within monozygotic twin pairs discordant for obsessive compulsive symptoms and between groups of pairs scoring very low or very high on obsessive compulsive symptoms, in order to examine the differential impact of non-shared environmental versus genetic risk factors for obsessive compulsive symptomatology on inhibitory control related functional brain activation. Although performance was intact, brain activation during inhibition of distracting information differed between obsessive compulsive symptom high-scoring compared to low-scoring subjects. Regions affected in the discordant group (e.g., temporal and anterior cingulate gyrus) were partly different from those observed to be affected in the concordant groups (e.g., parietal gyrus and thalamus). A robust increase in dorsolateral prefrontal activity during response interference was observed in both the high-scoring twins of the discordant sample and the high-scoring twins of the concordant sample, marking this structure as a possible key region for disturbances in inhibitory control in obsessive compulsive disorder.

(Received September 24 2011)

(Accepted February 07 2012)


  • obsessive compulsive symptoms;
  • discordant-concordant monozygotic twin design;
  • genetic risk;
  • environmental risk;
  • response interference;
  • functional MRI


c1 address for correspondence: A. den Braber, Department of Biological Psychology, VU University, van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail: