Interaction between Social/Psychosocial Factors and Genetic Variants on Body Mass Index: A Gene-Environment Interaction Analysis in a Longitudinal Setting

Obesity, which develops over time, is one of the leading causes of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease. However, hundreds of BMI (body mass index)-associated genetic loci identified through large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS) only explain about 2.7% of BMI variation. Most common human traits are believed to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Past studies suggest a variety of environmental features that are associated with obesity, including socioeconomic status and psychosocial factors. This study combines both gene/regions and environmental factors to explore whether social/psychosocial factors (childhood and adult socioeconomic status, social support, anger, chronic burden, stressful life events, and depressive symptoms) modify the effect of sets of genetic variants on BMI in European American and African American participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). In order to incorporate longitudinal phenotype data collected in the HRS and investigate entire sets of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within gene/region simultaneously, we applied a novel set-based test for gene-environment interaction in longitudinal studies (LGEWIS). Childhood socioeconomic status (parental education) was found to modify the genetic effect in the gene/region around SNP rs9540493 on BMI in European Americans in the HRS. The most significant SNP (rs9540488) by childhood socioeconomic status interaction within the rs9540493 gene/region was suggestively replicated in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) (p = 0.07).