Shared genetic and experimental links between obesity-related traits and asthma subtypes in UK Biobank

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2020 Feb;145(2):537-549. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2019.09.035. Epub 2019 Oct 24.


Background: Clinical and epidemiologic studies have shown that obesity is associated with asthma and that these associations differ by asthma subtype. Little is known about the shared genetic components between obesity and asthma.

Objective: We sought to identify shared genetic associations between obesity-related traits and asthma subtypes in adults.

Methods: A cross-trait genome-wide association study (GWAS) was performed using 457,822 subjects of European ancestry from the UK Biobank. Experimental evidence to support the role of genes significantly associated with both obesity-related traits and asthma through a GWAS was sought by using results from obese versus lean mouse RNA sequencing and RT-PCR experiments.

Results: We found a substantial positive genetic correlation between body mass index and later-onset asthma defined by asthma age of onset at 16 years or greater (Rg = 0.25, P = 9.56 × 10-22). Mendelian randomization analysis provided strong evidence in support of body mass index causally increasing asthma risk. Cross-trait meta-analysis identified 34 shared loci among 3 obesity-related traits and 2 asthma subtypes. GWAS functional analyses identified potential causal relationships between the shared loci and Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) quantitative trait loci and shared immune- and cell differentiation-related pathways between obesity and asthma. Finally, RNA sequencing data from lungs of obese versus control mice found that 2 genes (acyl-coenzyme A oxidase-like [ACOXL] and myosin light chain 6 [MYL6]) from the cross-trait meta-analysis were differentially expressed, and these findings were validated by using RT-PCR in an independent set of mice.

Conclusions: Our work identified shared genetic components between obesity-related traits and specific asthma subtypes, reinforcing the hypothesis that obesity causally increases the risk of asthma and identifying molecular pathways that might underlie both obesity and asthma.

Keywords: Obesity; RNA sequencing; RT-PCR; asthma subtypes; genome-wide association study; metabolic disorder; shared genetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Asthma / genetics*
  • Biological Specimen Banks
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • United Kingdom