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PhD defence

Rhythms of resilience: Individual differences in genetic and environmental effects on brain development

  • L. van Drunen
Tuesday 18 June 2024
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

The focus of the present thesis was two-fold. First, I identified underlying mechanisms contributing to individual differences in brain structure, developmental changes, and function. Second, I explored the effects of an enriched and deprived environment on the direction of brain developmental trajectories from middle childhood to early adolescence (aged 7-14). I observed subtle and distinct patterns of genetic and environmental effects on the developing brain during middle childhood and early puberty. The results confirmed that a large part of variances in brain structure and developmental changes are driven by genetic contribution, including additional location-specific environmental influences. Even though combining studies that investigated genetic and environmental influences on activation and structural properties of brain regions revealed overlapping and distinct outcomes, it is essential to also recognize the complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences on the brain. Together, the combination of MRI and fMRI methodologies revealed a comprehensive insight into how individual differences can arise.

This thesis further revealed distinct effects of specific environmental influences on the pace of brain development. That is, an enriched cognitive environment, as indicated by musical ability, was predominantly associated with attenuated development, while a deprived cognitive environment, marked by exposure to COVID-19 pandemic measures, had an accelerated impact on development. Finally, the results of this thesis suggest that the brain also shows resilience to adverse effects, specifically in TPJ growth during the continuation of the pandemic. Possibly, these findings postulate specific adaptive brain processes to environmental effects that are pronounced in the developmental phase between childhood and early adolescence. Future studies can build on these findings by examining whether the relation between environmental effects and pace of brain maturation is linked to advantageous mental health outcomes. Ultimately, an important next step is to identify behavioral or contextual interventions that can help ensure all children thrive throughout their development.


  • Prof.dr. E.A. Crone
  • dr. L.M. Wierenga

PhD dissertations

Approximately one week after the defence, PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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