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Insight into the genetic architecture of back pain and its risk factors from a study of 509,000 individuals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

CHARGE Musculoskeletal Working Group

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1361-1373
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Early online date6 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

King's Authors


Back pain (BP) is a common condition of major social importance and poorly understood pathogenesis. Combining data from the UK Biobank and CHARGE consortium cohorts allowed us to perform a very large genome-wide association study (total N = 509,070) and examine the genetic correlation and pleiotropy between BP and its clinical and psychosocial risk factors. We identified and replicated 3 BP-associated loci, including one novel region implicating SPOCK2/CHST3 genes. We provide evidence for pleiotropic effects of genetic factors underlying BP, height, and intervertebral disk problems. We also identified independent genetic correlations between BP and depression symptoms, neuroticism, sleep disturbance, overweight, and smoking. A significant enrichment for genes involved in the central nervous system and skeletal tissue development was observed. The study of pleiotropy and genetic correlations, supported by the pathway analysis, suggests at least 2 strong molecular axes of BP genesis, one related to structural/anatomical factors such as intervertebral disk problems and anthropometrics, and another related to the psychological component of pain perception and pain processing. These findings corroborate with the current biopsychosocial model as a paradigm for BP. Overall, the results demonstrate BP to have an extremely complex genetic architecture that overlaps with the genetic predisposition to its biopsychosocial risk factors. The work sheds light on pathways of relevance in the prevention and management of low BP.

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