Obesity is a multigenic trait that has a substantial genetic component. Animal models confirm a role for gene-gene interactions, and human studies suggest that as much as one-third of the heritable variance may be due to nonadditive gene effects. To evaluate potential epistatic interactions among five regions, on chromosomes 7, 10, and 20, that have previously been linked to obesity phenotypes, we conducted pairwise correlation analyses based on alleles shared identical by descent (IBD) for independent obese affected sibling pairs (ASPs), and we determined family-specific nonparametric linkage (NPL) scores in 244 families. The correlation analyses were also conducted separately, by race, through use of race-specific allele frequencies. Conditional analyses for a qualitative trait (body mass index [BMI] ≥27) and hierarchical models for quantitative traits were used to further refine evidence of gene interaction. Both the ASP-specific IBD-sharing probability and the family-specific NPL score revealed that there were strong positive correlations between 10q (88-97 cM) and 20q (65-83 cM), through single-point and multipoint analyses with three obesity thresholds (BMI ≥27, ≥30, and ≥35) across African American and European American samples. Conditional analyses for BMI ≥27 found that the LOD score at 20q rises from 1.53 in the baseline analysis to 2.80 (empirical P = .012) when families were weighted by evidence for linkage at 10q (D10S1646) through use of zero-one weights (weight0-1) and to 3.32 (empirical P < .001) when proportional weights (weightprop) were used. For percentage fat mass, variance-component analysis based on a two-locus epistatic model yielded significant evidence for interaction between 20q (75 cM) and the chromosome 10 centromere (LOD = 1.74; P = .024), compared with a two-locus additive model (LOD = 0.90). The results from multiple methods and correlated phenotypes are consistent in suggesting that epistatic interactions between loci in these regions play a role in extreme human obesity.
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