Twin Research and Human Genetics


Cerebral Asymmetry: A Quantitative, Multifactorial, and Plastic Brain Phenotype

Miguel E. Renteríaa1a2 c1

a1 Genetic Epidemiology and Quantitative Genetics laboratories, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia

a2 School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia


The longitudinal fissure separates the human brain into two hemispheres that remain connected through the corpus callosum. The left and the right halves of the brain resemble each other, and almost every structure present in one side has an equivalent structure in the other. Despite this exceptional correspondence, the two hemispheres also display important anatomical differences and there is marked lateralization of certain cognitive and motor functions such as language and handedness. However, the mechanisms that underlie the establishment of these hemispheric specializations, as well as their physiological and behavioral implications, remain largely unknown. Thanks to recent advances in neuroimaging, a series of studies documenting variation in symmetry and asymmetry as a function of age, gender, brain region, and pathological state, have been published in the past decade. Here, we review evidence of normal and atypical cerebral asymmetry, and the factors that influence it at the macrostructural level. Given the prominent role that cerebral asymmetry plays in the organization of the brain, and its possible implication in neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions, further research in this area is anticipated.

(Received November 22 2011)

(Accepted March 26 2012)


  • magnetic resonance imaging;
  • MRI;
  • cerebral asymmetry;
  • brain lateralization


c1 address for correspondence: Miguel E. Rentería, Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Locked Bag 2000, Royal Brisbane Hospital, Brisbane QLD 4029, Australia. E-mail: