King's College London

Research portal

No Evidence for Passive Gene-Environment Correlation or the Influence of Genetic Risk for Psychiatric Disorders on Adult Body Composition via the Adoption Design

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Avina K. Hunjan, Rosa Cheesman, Jonathan R.I. Coleman, Christopher Hübel, Thalia C. Eley, Gerome Breen

Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavior Genetics
Accepted/In press2020

King's Authors


The relationship between genetic and environmental risk is complex and for many traits, estimates of genetic effects may be inflated by passive gene-environment correlation. This arises because biological offspring inherit both their genotypes and rearing environment from their parents. We tested for passive gene-environment correlation in adult body composition traits using the ‘natural experiment’ of childhood adoption, which removes passive gene-environment correlation within families. Specifically, we compared 6165 adoptees with propensity score matched non-adoptees in the UK Biobank. We also tested whether passive gene-environment correlation inflates the association between psychiatric genetic risk and body composition. We found no evidence for inflation of heritability or polygenic scores in non-adoptees compared to adoptees for a range of body composition traits. Furthermore, polygenic risk scores for anorexia nervosa, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia did not differ in their influence on body composition traits in adoptees and non-adoptees. These findings suggest that passive gene-environment correlation does not inflate genetic effects for body composition, or the influence of psychiatric disorder genetic risk on body composition. Our design does not look at passive gene-environment correlation in childhood, and does not test for ‘pure’ environmental effects or the effects of active and evocative gene-environment correlations, where child genetics directly influences home environment. However, these findings suggest that genetic influences identified for body composition in this adult sample are direct, and not confounded by the family environment provided by biological relatives.

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454