Assessing genetic and environmental influences on epicardial and abdominal adipose tissue quantities: a classical twin study

Int J Obes (Lond). 2018 Feb;42(2):163-168. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.212. Epub 2017 Aug 30.


Background/objectives: Various adipose tissue compartments play an important role in the development of cardiometabolic diseases. The quantity of different fat compartments is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. The aim of our study was to evaluate the magnitude of genetic and environmental effects on epicardial, subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue (EAT, SAT and VAT) quantities in a cohort of adult twin pairs.

Subjects/methods: In this cross-sectional study we investigated adult twins (57 monozygotic (MZ) and 33 dizygotic (DZ) same-gender twin pairs; 180 twin subjects). We measured EAT volume using electrocardiogram-gated native computed tomography (CT) scan of the heart, and abdominal SAT and VAT areas were quantified between the third and fourth lumbar vertebra on native CT images. We calculated genetic and environmental impact on the size of various adipose tissue compartments by analyzing co-twin correlations in MZ and DZ pairs separately, and furthermore by using genetic structural equation models.

Results: In co-twin analysis, MZ twins had stronger correlations than DZ twins for EAT (rMZ=0.81, rDZ=0.32), similar to SAT and VAT quantities (rMZ=0.80, rDZ=0.68 and rMZ=0.79, rDZ=0.48, respectively). In multi-trait model fitting analysis, the overall contribution of genetic factors to EAT, SAT and VAT volumes were 80%, 78% and 70%, whereas environmental factors were 20%, 22% and 30%, respectively. Common pathway model analyses indicated that none of the EAT, SAT and VAT phenotypes was independent of the other two.

Conclusions: Genetic factors have substantial influence, while environmental factors have only a modest impact on EAT volume, abdominal SAT and VAT quantities. There is a considerable amount of common genetic background influencing the quantities of all three adipose tissue compartments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat / diagnostic imaging
  • Abdominal Fat / pathology*
  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / genetics*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / diagnostic imaging
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / pathology*
  • Male
  • Pericardium / diagnostic imaging
  • Pericardium / pathology*
  • Tomography, Spiral Computed
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics*
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics*