Moderation of breastfeeding effects on the IQ by genetic variation in fatty acid metabolism

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Nov 20;104(47):18860-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0704292104. Epub 2007 Nov 5.


Children's intellectual development is influenced by both genetic inheritance and environmental experiences. Breastfeeding is one of the earliest such postnatal experiences. Breastfed children attain higher IQ scores than children not fed breast milk, presumably because of the fatty acids uniquely available in breast milk. Here we show that the association between breastfeeding and IQ is moderated by a genetic variant in FADS2, a gene involved in the genetic control of fatty acid pathways. We confirmed this gene-environment interaction in two birth cohorts, and we ruled out alternative explanations of the finding involving gene-exposure correlation, intrauterine growth, social class, and maternal cognitive ability, as well as maternal genotype effects on breastfeeding and breast milk. The finding shows that environmental exposures can be used to uncover novel candidate genes in complex phenotypes. It also shows that genes may work via the environment to shape the IQ, helping to close the nature versus nurture debate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 11 / genetics
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / genetics*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Linoleoyl-CoA Desaturase / genetics
  • Linoleoyl-CoA Desaturase / metabolism*
  • Mothers
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Social Class
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase / genetics*
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase
  • Linoleoyl-CoA Desaturase