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Genetic variants associated with motion sickness point to roles for inner ear development, neurological processes, and glucose homeostasis

By Bethann S. Hromatka, Joyce Y Tung, Amy K Kiefer, Chuong B Do, David A. Hinds, Nicholas Eriksson

Posted 04 Feb 2014
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/002386 (published DOI: 10.1093/hmg/ddv028)

Roughly one in three individuals is highly susceptible to motion sickness and yet the underlying causes of this condition are not well understood. Despite high heritability, no associated genetic factors have been discovered to date. Here, we conducted the first genome-wide association study on motion sickness in 80,494 individuals from the 23andMe database who were surveyed about car sickness. Thirty-five single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were associated with motion sickness at a genome-wide-significant level (p< 5e-8). Many of these SNPs are near genes involved in balance, and eye, ear, and cranial development (e.g., PVRL3, TSHZ1, MUTED, HOXB3, HOXD3). Other SNPs may affect motion sickness through nearby genes with roles in the nervous system, glucose homeostasis, or hypoxia. We show that several of these SNPs display sex-specific effects, with as much as three times stronger effects in women. We searched for comorbid phenotypes with motion sickness, confirming associations with known comorbidities including migraines, postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV), vertigo, and morning sickness, and observing new associations with altitude sickness and many gastrointestinal conditions. We also show that two of these related phenotypes (PONV and migraines) share underlying genetic factors with motion sickness. These results point to the importance of the nervous system in motion sickness and suggest a role for glucose levels in motion-induced nausea and vomiting, a finding that may provide insight into other nausea-related phenotypes such as PONV. They also highlight personal characteristics (e.g., being a poor sleeper) that correlate with motion sickness, findings that could help identify risk factors or treatments.

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