Body mass index, but not FTO genotype or major depressive disorder, influences brain structure

James Cole, C. P. Boyle, A. Simmons, Sarah Cohen-Woods, M. Rivera, Peter McGuffin, P. M. Thompson, Cynthia Fu

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    35 Citations (Scopus)


    Obesity and major depressive disorder (MDD) are highly prevalent and often comorbid health conditions. Both are associated with differences in brain structure and are genetically influenced. Yet, little is known about how obesity, MDD, and known risk genotypes might interact in the brain. Subjects were 81 patients with MDD (mean age 48.6. years) and 69 matched healthy controls (mean age 51.2. years). Subjects underwent 1.5T magnetic resonance imaging, genotyping for the fat mass and obesity associated (FTO) gene rs3751812 polymorphism, and measurements for body mass index (BMI). We conducted a whole brain voxelwise analysis using tensor-based morphometry (TBM) to examine the main and interaction effects of diagnosis, BMI and FTO genotype. Significant effects of BMI were observed across widespread brain regions, indicating reductions in predominantly subcortical and white matter areas associated with increased BMI, but there was no influence of MDD or FTO rs3751812 genotype. There were no significant interaction effects. Within MDD patients, there was no effect of current depressive symptoms; however the use of antidepressant medication was associated with reductions in brain volume in the frontal lobe and cerebellum. Obesity affects brain structure in both healthy participants and MDD patients; this influence may account for some of the brain changes previously associated with MDD. BMI and the use of medication should ideally be measured and controlled for when conducting structural brain imaging research in MDD.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)109-117
    Number of pages9
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2013


    • Body mass index
    • FTO
    • Genetics
    • Major depressive disorder
    • Neuroimaging
    • Tensor-based morphometry


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