Population-based body-brain mapping links brain morphology and body composition
Tiril P Gurholt,
Unn K. Haukvik,
Dennis van der Meer,
Kevin S. O’Connell,
Olof D Leinhard,
Olav B Smeland,
Ida E Sønderby,
Nils Eiel Steen,
Lars T. Westlye,
Ole A Andreassen
Posted 03 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.02.29.970095
Posted 03 Mar 2020
Background: Understanding complex body-brain processes, and putative interplay between adipose tissue and brain health, is of vital importance for brain and somatic disease prevention in the general population. We studied the link between body composition and brain structure through large-scale investigation in a healthy population without secondary disease effects. Methods: We processed brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data and extracted measures of brain morphometry from 19,330 healthy UK Biobank participants, of which a subset (n=2,703) had body MRI. We investigated associations between brain structure and (i) anthropometric body composition measures, and (ii) regional/specific body MRI measures of abdominal fat and muscle tissue. Findings: We identified highly significant body-brain associations (p-values ≤ 0.0002). Anthropometric measures showed negative, nonlinear, associations with cerebellar/cortical gray matter, and brain stem structures, negative associations with white matter, and positive associations with ventricular volumes. Subcortical structures exhibited mixed effect directionality, with strongest positive association for accumbens. Among body MRI measures, liver fat was negatively associated with thinner/lower cortical gray matter thickness/volume, and thigh muscle volume positively associated with accumbens volume. Interpretation: We demonstrate significant body-brain associations, and map individual differences in body composition to brain morphology in healthy individuals. Common measures of body composition correlated negatively with cerebellar and cortical structures and positively with the accumbens, a dopamine rich structure involved in reward processing. These findings of a relationship between brain anatomy and body composition provide new insight into body-brain processes and suggest shared mechanisms of cardiometabolic risk factors and brain disorders. This may form the foundation for a new type of prevention studies, and provides a framework for studies of underlying mechanisms related to unhealthy lifestyle and obesity, with implications for public health and prevention. Funding: The Research Council of Norway, South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority, European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme & European Research Council.
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