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Mol Psychiatry. 2017 May;22(5):703-710. doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.51. Epub 2017 Mar 28.

Prefrontal gray matter volume mediates genetic risks for obesity.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Münster, Münster, Germany.
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Münster, Münster, Germany.
Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Münster, Münster, Germany.
Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Munich, Munich, Germany.
Institute of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, University of Münster, Münster, Germany.
Discipline of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia.


Genetic and neuroimaging research has identified neurobiological correlates of obesity. However, evidence for an integrated model of genetic risk and brain structural alterations in the pathophysiology of obesity is still absent. Here we investigated the relationship between polygenic risk for obesity, gray matter structure and body mass index (BMI) by the use of univariate and multivariate analyses in two large, independent cohorts (n=330 and n=347). Higher BMI and higher polygenic risk for obesity were significantly associated with medial prefrontal gray matter decrease, and prefrontal gray matter was further shown to significantly mediate the effect of polygenic risk for obesity on BMI in both samples. Building on this, the successful individualized prediction of BMI by means of multivariate pattern classification algorithms trained on whole-brain imaging data and external validations in the second cohort points to potential clinical applications of this imaging trait marker.

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