Mendelian Randomization Study of Obesity and Cerebrovascular Disease

Ann Neurol. 2020 Apr;87(4):516-524. doi: 10.1002/ana.25686. Epub 2020 Feb 19.


Objective: To systematically investigate causal relationships between obesity and cerebrovascular disease and the extent to which hypertension and hyperglycemia mediate the effect of obesity on cerebrovascular disease.

Methods: We used summary statistics from genome-wide association studies for body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), and multiple cerebrovascular disease phenotypes. We explored causal associations with 2-sample Mendelian randomization (MR) accounting for genetic covariation between BMI and WHR, and we assessed what proportion of the association between obesity and cerebrovascular disease was mediated by systolic blood pressure (SBP) and blood glucose levels, respectively.

Results: Genetic predisposition to higher BMI did not increase the risk of cerebrovascular disease. In contrast, for each 10% increase in WHR there was a 75% increase (95% confidence interval [CI] = 44-113%) in risk for large artery ischemic stroke, a 57% (95% CI = 29-91%) increase in risk for small vessel ischemic stroke, a 197% increase (95% CI = 59-457%) in risk of intracerebral hemorrhage, and an increase in white matter hyperintensity volume (β = 0.11, 95% CI = 0.01-0.21). These WHR associations persisted after adjusting for genetic determinants of BMI. Approximately one-tenth of the observed effect of WHR was mediated by SBP for ischemic stroke (proportion mediated: 12%, 95% CI = 4-20%), but no evidence of mediation was found for average blood glucose.

Interpretation: Abdominal adiposity may trigger causal pathological processes, partially independent from blood pressure and totally independent from glucose levels, that lead to cerebrovascular disease. Potential targets of these pathological processes could represent novel therapeutic opportunities for stroke. ANN NEUROL 2020;87:516-524.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / genetics
  • Blood Pressure / genetics
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / epidemiology
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / genetics
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / genetics
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Stroke / epidemiology
  • Stroke / genetics
  • Waist-Hip Ratio
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging


  • Blood Glucose