The IMAGEN study: a decade of imaging genetics in adolescents

IMAGEN consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Imaging genetics offers the possibility of detecting associations between genotype and brain structure as well as function, with effect sizes potentially exceeding correlations between genotype and behavior. However, study results are often limited due to small sample sizes and methodological differences, thus reducing the reliability of findings. The IMAGEN cohort with 2000 young adolescents assessed from the age of 14 onwards tries to eliminate some of these limitations by offering a longitudinal approach and sufficient sample size for analyzing gene-environment interactions on brain structure and function. Here, we give a systematic review of IMAGEN publications since the start of the consortium. We then focus on the specific phenotype ‘drug use’ to illustrate the potential of the IMAGEN approach. We describe findings with respect to frontocortical, limbic and striatal brain volume, functional activation elicited by reward anticipation, behavioral inhibition, and affective faces, and their respective associations with drug intake. In addition to describing its strengths, we also discuss limitations of the IMAGEN study. Because of the longitudinal design and related attrition, analyses are underpowered for (epi-) genome-wide approaches due to the limited sample size. Estimating the generalizability of results requires replications in independent samples. However, such densely phenotyped longitudinal studies are still rare and alternative internal cross-validation methods (e.g., leave-one out, split-half) are also warranted. In conclusion, the IMAGEN cohort is a unique, very well characterized longitudinal sample, which helped to elucidate neurobiological mechanisms involved in complex behavior and offers the possibility to further disentangle genotype × phenotype interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2648-2671
Number of pages24
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology


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