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Rhein, Cosima; Mühle, Christiane; Richter-Schmidinger, Tanja; Alexopoulos, Panagiotis; Doerfler, Arnd; Kornhuber, Johannes (2014): Neuroanatomical Correlates of Intelligence in Healthy Young Adults: The Role of Basal Ganglia Volume.
In: PLOS ONE 9(4), e93623


Background: In neuropsychiatric diseases with basal ganglia involvement, higher cognitive functions are often impaired. In this exploratory study, we examined healthy young adults to gain detailed insight into the relationship between basal ganglia volume and cognitive abilities under non-pathological conditions. Methodology/Principal Findings: We investigated 137 healthy adults that were between the ages of 21 and 35 years with similar educational backgrounds. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed, and volumes of basal ganglia nuclei in both hemispheres were calculated using FreeSurfer software. The cognitive assessment consisted of verbal, numeric and figural aspects of intelligence for either the fluid or the crystallised intelligence factor using the intelligence test Intelligenz-Struktur- Test (I-S-T 2000 R). Our data revealed significant correlations of the caudate nucleus and pallidum volumes with figural and numeric aspects of intelligence, but not with verbal intelligence. Interestingly, figural intelligence associations were dependent on sex and intelligence factor;in females, the pallidum volumes were correlated with crystallised figural intelligence (r=0.372, p=0.01),whereas in males, the caudate volumes were correlated with fluid figural intelligence (r=0.507, p=0.01). Numeric intelligence was correlated with right-lateralised caudate nucleus volumes for both females and males, but only for crystallised intelligence (r=0.306, p=0.04 and r=0.459, p=0.04, respectively). The associations were not mediated by prefrontal cortical subfield volumes when controlling with partial correlation analyses. Conclusions/Significance: The findings of our exploratory analysis indicate that figural and numeric intelligence aspects, but not verbal aspects, are strongly associated with basal ganglia volumes. Unlike numeric intelligence, the type of figural intelligence appears to be related to distinct basal ganglia nuclei in a sex-specific manner. Subcortical brain structures thus may contribute substantially to cognitive performance.