Background: Type 2 diabetes is thought to result from interactions between genetic and lifestyle factors, but few robust examples exist. The overarching aim of this thesis was to discover such interactions by studying cohorts of white youth and adults from northern Europe in which physical activity, genotypes, and diabetes-related traits or diabetes incidence had been ascertained.
Methods: The thesis includes four papers. In Paper I, we investigated associations and interactions between 35 common PPARGC1A polymorphisms and cardiovascular and metabolic disease traits in 2,101 Danish and Estonian children from the European Youth Heart Study (EYHS). Paper II used the same cohort to test associations and interactions on cardiometabolic traits for the diabetes-predisposing TCF7L2 polymorphism. In Paper III, we assessed associations for 17 type 2 diabetes gene polymorphisms on impaired glucose regulation (IGR) or incident type 2 diabetes, and tested whether these effects are modified by physical activity in a prospective cohort study of ~16,000 initially non-diabetic Swedish adults – the Malmö Preventive Project (MPP). Paper IV aimed to replicate main genetic effects and gene x physical activity interactions for an FTO polymorphism on obesity in 18,435 primarily non-diabetic Swedish (MPP) and Finnish (Prevalence, Prediction and Prevention of Diabetes in Botnia) adults.
Results: In Paper I, nominally significant associations were observed for BMI (rs10018239, P=0.039), waist circumference (rs7656250, P=0.012; rs8192678 [Gly482Ser], P=0.015; rs3755863, P=0.02; rs10018239, P=0.043), systolic blood pressure (rs2970869, P=0.018) and fasting glucose concentrations (rs11724368, P=0.045). Stronger associations were observed for aerobic fitness (rs7656250, P=0.005; rs13117172, P=0.008) and fasting glucose concentrations (rs7657071, P=0.002). None remained significant after correcting for multiple statistical comparisons. We proceeded by testing for gene × physical activity interactions for the polymorphisms that showed statistical evidence of association (P<0.05) in the main effect models, but none was statistically significant. In Paper II, the minor T allele at the rs7903146 variant was associated with higher glucose levels in older (beta=–0.098 mmol/l per minor allele copy, P=0.029) but not in younger children (beta=–0.001 mmol/l per minor allele copy, P=0.972). A significant inverse association between the minor allele at rs7903146 and height was evident in boys (beta=–1.073 cm per minor allele copy, P=0.001), but not in girls. The test of interaction between the TCF7L2 rs7903146 variant and physical activity on HOMA-B was nominally statistically significant (beta=0.022, Pinteraction=0.015), whereby physical activity reduced the effect of the risk allele on estimated beta-cell function. In Paper III, tests of gene x physical activity interactions on IGR-risk for three polymorphisms were nominally statistically significant: CDKN2A/B rs10811661 (Pinteraction=0.015); HNF1B rs4430796 (Pinteraction=0.026); PPARG rs1801282 (Pinteraction=0.04). Consistent interactions were observed for the CDKN2A/B (Pinteraction=0.013) and HNF1B (Pinteraction=0.0009) variants on 2 hr glucose concentrations. Where type 2 diabetes was the outcome, only one statistically significant interaction effect was observed and this was for the HNF1B rs4430796 variant (Pinteraction=0.0004). The interaction effects for HNF1B on 2 hr glucose and incident diabetes remained significant after correction for multiple testing (Pinteraction=0.015 and 0.0068, respectively). In Paper IV, the minor A allele at rs9939609 was associated with higher BMI (P<0.0001). The tests of gene x physical activity interaction on BMI were not statistically significant in either cohort (Sweden: P=0.71, Finland: P=0.18).
Conclusions: Variation at PPARGC1A is unlikely to have a major impact on cardiometabolic health in European children, but physical activity may modify the effect of the TFC7L2 variants on beta-cell function in this cohort. In Swedish adults, physical activity modifies the effects of common HNF1B and CDKN2A/B variants on risk of IGR and also modifies the effect of the HNF1B on type 2 diabetes risk. In Swedish and Finnish adults, we were unable to confirm previous reports of an interaction between FTO gene variation and physical activity on obesity predisposition.