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Inherited basis of visceral, abdominal subcutaneous and gluteofemoral fat depots

By Saaket Agrawal, Minxian Wang, Marcus D. R. Klarqvist, Joseph Shin, Hesam Dashti, Nathaniel Diamant, Seung Hoan Choi, Sean J. Jurgens, Patrick T. Ellinor, Anthony Philippakis, Kenney Ng, Melina Claussnitzer, Puneet Batra, Amit V. Khera

Posted 26 Aug 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.08.24.21262564

For any given level of overall adiposity - as commonly quantified by body mass index (BMI) within clinical practice - individuals vary considerably in fat distribution. We and others have noted that increased visceral fat (VAT) is associated with increased cardiometabolic risk, while gluteofemoral fat (GFAT) may be protective. Familial partial lipodystrophy (FPLD) - often caused by rare variants in the LMNA gene - represents an extreme example of this paradigm, leading to a severe shift to visceral fat with subsequent insulin resistance and adverse metabolic profile. By contrast, the inherited basis of body fat distribution in the broader population is not fully understood. Here, we studied up to 38,965 UK Biobank participants with VAT, abdominal subcutaneous (ASAT), and GFAT volumes precisely quantified using abdominal MRI. Because genetic associations with these raw depot volumes were largely driven by variants known to affect BMI, we next studied six phenotypes of local adiposity: VAT adjusted for BMI (VATadjBMI), ASATadjBMI, GFATadjBMI, VAT/ASAT, VAT/GFAT, and ASAT/GFAT. We identify 178 unique loci associated with at least one adiposity trait, including 29 newly-identified loci. Rare variant association studies extend prior evidence of association for PDE3B as an important modulator of fat distribution. Sex-specific analyses of local adiposity traits noted overall higher estimated heritability in females, increased effect sizes for identified loci, and 25 female-specific associations. Individuals in the extreme tails of fat distribution phenotypes were highly enriched for predisposing common variants, as quantified using polygenic scores. Taking GFATadjBMI as an example, individuals with extreme values were 3.8-fold (95%CI 2.8 to 5.2) more likely to have a polygenic score within the top 5% of the distribution. These results - using more precise and BMI-independent measures of local adiposity - confirm fat distribution as a highly heritable trait with important implications for cardiometabolic health outcomes.

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