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Preliminary evidence for genetic overlap between body mass index and striatal reward response.

Lancaster, Thomas M. and Ihssen, Niklas and Brindley, Lisa M. and Linden, David E. J. (2018) 'Preliminary evidence for genetic overlap between body mass index and striatal reward response.', Translational psychiatry., 8 . p. 19.


The reward-processing network is implicated in the aetiology of obesity. Several lines of evidence suggest obesity-linked genetic risk loci (such as DRD2 and FTO) may influence individual variation in body mass index (BMI) through neuropsychological processes reflected in alterations in activation of the striatum during reward processing. However, no study has tested the broader hypotheses that (a) the relationship between BMI and reward-related brain activation (measured through the blood oxygenation-dependent (BOLD) signal) may be observed in a large population study and (b) the overall genetic architecture of these phenotypes overlap, an assumption critical for the progression of imaging genetic studies in obesity research. Using data from the Human Connectome Project (N = 1055 healthy, young individuals: average BMI = 26.4), we first establish a phenotypic relationship between BMI and ventral striatal (VS) BOLD during the processing of rewarding (monetary) stimuli (β = 0.44, P = 0.013), accounting for potential confounds. BMI and VS BOLD were both significantly influenced by additive genetic factors (H2r = 0.57; 0.12, respectively). Further decomposition of this variance suggested that the relationship was driven by shared genetic (ρg = 0.47, P = 0.011), but not environmental (ρE = −0.07, P = 0.29) factors. To validate the assumption of genetic pleiotropy between BMI and VS BOLD, we further show that polygenic risk for higher BMI is also associated with increased VS BOLD response to appetitive stimuli (calorically high food images), in an independent sample (N = 81; PFWE−ROI < 0.005). Together, these observations suggest that the genetic factors link risk to obesity to alterations within key nodes of the brain's reward circuity. These observations provide a basis for future work exploring the mechanistic role of genetic loci that confer risk for obesity using the imaging genetics approach.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:26 October 2017
Date deposited:11 December 2017
Date of first online publication:10 January 2018
Date first made open access:25 January 2018

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