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Large-scale genome-wide association study of food liking reveals genetic determinants and genetic correlations with distinct neurophysiological traits.

By Sebastian May-Wilson, Nana Matoba, Kaitlin H Wade, Jouke- Jan Hottenga, Maria Pina Concas, Massimo Mangino, Eryk Jan Grzeszkowiak, Cristina Menni, Paolo Gasparini, Nicholas J Timpson, Maria G Veldhuizen, Eco JC de Geus, James F Wilson, Nicola Pirastu

Posted 28 Jul 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.07.28.454120

Variable preferences for different foods are among the main determinants of their intake and are influenced by many factors, including genetics. Despite considerable twins' heritability, studies aimed at uncovering food-liking genetics have focused mostly on taste receptors. Here, we present the first results of a large-scale genome-wide association study of food liking conducted on 161,625 participants from UK Biobank. Liking was assessed over 139 specific foods using a 9-point hedonic scale. After performing GWAS, we used genetic correlations coupled with structural equation modelling to create a multi-level hierarchical map of food liking. We identified three main dimensions: high caloric foods defined as "Highly palatable", strong-tasting foods ranging from alcohol to pungent vegetables, defined as "Learned" and finally "Low caloric" foods such as fruit and vegetables. The "Highly palatable" dimension was genetically uncorrelated from the other two, suggesting that two independent processes underlie liking high reward foods and the Learned/Low caloric ones. Genetic correlation analysis with the corresponding food consumption traits revealed a high correlation, while liking showed twice the heritability compared to consumption. For example, fresh fruit liking and consumption showed a genetic correlation of 0.7 with heritabilities of 0.1 and 0.05, respectively. GWAS analysis identified 1401 significant food-liking associations located in 173 genomic loci, with only 11 near taste or olfactory receptors. Genetic correlation with morphological and functional brain data (33,224 UKB participants) uncovers associations of the three food-liking dimensions with non-overlapping, distinct brain areas and networks, suggestive of separate neural mechanisms underlying the liking dimensions. In conclusion, we created a comprehensive and data-driven map of the genetic determinants and associated neurophysiological factors of food liking beyond taste receptor genes.

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