Obesity is a complex trait with both environmental and genetic contributors. Genome-wide association studies have identified several variants that are robustly associated with obesity and body mass index (BMI), many of which are found within genes involved in appetite regulation. Currently, genetic association data for obesity are lacking in Africans—a single genome-wide association study and a few replication studies have been published in West Africa, but none have been performed in a South African population.
To assess the association of candidate loci with BMI in black South Africans. The authors focused on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the FTO, LEP, LEPR, MC4R, NPY2R and POMC genes.
A genetic association study.
990 randomly selected individuals from the larger Birth to Twenty cohort (a longitudinal birth cohort study of health and development in Africans).
The authors genotyped 44 SNPs within the six candidate genes that included known BMI-associated SNPs and tagSNPs based on linkage disequilibrium in an African population for FTO, LEP and NPY2R. To assess population substructure, the authors included 18 ancestry informative markers. Weight, height, sex, sex-specific pubertal stage and exact age collected during adolescence (13 years) were used to identify loci that predispose to obesity early in life.
Sex, sex-specific pubertal stage and exact age together explain 14.3% of the variation in log(BMI) at age 13. After adjustment for these factors, four SNPs were individually significantly associated with BMI: FTO rs17817449 (p=0.022), LEP rs10954174 (p=0.0004), LEP rs6966536 (p=0.012) and MC4R rs17782313 (p=0.045). Together the four SNPs account for 2.1% of the variation in log(BMI). Each risk allele was associated with an estimated average increase of 2.5% in BMI.
The study highlighted SNPs in FTO and MC4R as potential genetic markers of obesity risk in South Africans. The association with two SNPs in the 3′ untranslated region of the LEP gene is novel.
This is a replication study aiming to reproduce BMI association findings from European cohorts in a South African population.
This study focused on genes linked to appetite control that were previously reported to show association with BMI or obesity and included FTO, LEP, LEPR, MC4R, NPY2R and POMC.
Adolescent data were used to facilitate the identification of genetic loci that predispose to obesity early in life, as it is known that overweight/obese children have an elevated risk of becoming obese adults.
We found four SNPs were individually significantly associated with BMI: FTO rs17817449 (p=0.022), LEP rs10954174 (p=0.0004), LEP rs6966536 (p=0.012) and MC4R rs17782313 (p=0.045).
Together the four SNPs account for 2.1% of the variation in log(BMI).
We also demonstrated that an accumulation of risk alleles is linked to a significant increase in BMI—individuals with seven risk alleles had an 11.0% increase in median BMI compared with those with two risk alleles.
Strengths and limitations of this study
This study provides the first preliminary evidence of the role of genetic variants in obesity risk in an adolescent black South African population.
This study was only moderately powered to detect association with BMI, and not all genes were exhaustively investigated.
TagSNP selection would have been enhanced if South African data were available for this approach.