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

Lancaster, Thomas M.; Ihssen, Niklas; Brindley, Lisa M.; Linden, David E.J.

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Thomas M. Lancaster

Lisa M. Brindley

David E.J. Linden


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.


Lancaster, T. M., Ihssen, N., Brindley, L. M., & Linden, D. E. (2018). Preliminary evidence for genetic overlap between body mass index and striatal reward response. Translational Psychiatry, 8, Article 19.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 26, 2017
Online Publication Date Jan 10, 2018
Publication Date Jan 10, 2018
Deposit Date Dec 11, 2017
Publicly Available Date Dec 11, 2017
Journal Translational Psychiatry
Publisher Springer Nature [academic journals on]
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 8
Article Number 19


Accepted Journal Article (385 Kb)

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