Gene-environment interaction study for BMI reveals interactions between genetic factors and physical activity, alcohol consumption and socioeconomic status
by Mathias Rask-Andersen, Torgny Karlsson, Weronica E. Ek, Åsa JohanssonPrevious genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified hundreds of genetic loci to be associated with body mass index (BMI) and risk of obesity. Genetic effects can differ between individuals depending on lifestyle or environmental factors due to gene-environment interactions. In this study, we examine gene-environment interactions in 362,496 unrelated participants with Caucasian ancestry from the UK Biobank resource. A total of 94 BMI-associated SNPs, selected from a previous GWAS on BMI, were used to construct weighted genetic scores for BMI (GSBMI). Linear regression modeling was used to estimate the effect of gene-environment interactions on BMI for 131 lifestyle factors related to: dietary habits, smoking and alcohol consumption, physical activity, socioeconomic status, mental health, sleeping patterns, as well as female-specific factors such as menopause and childbirth. In total, 15 lifestyle factors were observed to interact with GSBMI, of which alcohol intake frequency, usual walking pace, and Townsend deprivation index, a measure of socioeconomic status, were all highly significant (p = 1.45*10−29, p = 3.83*10−26, p = 4.66*10−11, respectively). Interestingly, the frequency of alcohol consumption, rather than the total weekly amount resulted in a significant interaction. The FTO locus was the strongest single locus interacting with any of the lifestyle factors. However, 13 significant interactions were also observed after omitting the FTO locus from the genetic score. Our analyses indicate that many lifestyle factors modify the genetic effects on BMI with some groups of individuals having more than double the effect of the genetic score. However, the underlying causal mechanisms of gene-environmental interactions are difficult to deduce from cross-sectional data alone and controlled experiments are required to fully characterise the causal factors.
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