The worldwide obesity epidemic has been mainly attributed to lifestyle changes. However, who becomes obese in an obesity-prone environment is largely determined by genetic factors. In the last 20 years, important progress has been made in the elucidation of the genetic architecture of obesity. In parallel with successful gene identifications, the number of gene–environment interaction (GEI) studies has grown rapidly. This paper reviews the growing body of evidence supporting gene–environment interactions in the field of obesity. Heritability, monogenic and polygenic obesity studies provide converging evidence that obesity-predisposing genes interact with a variety of environmental, lifestyle and treatment exposures. However, some skepticism remains regarding the validity of these studies based on several issues, which include statistical modelling, confounding, low replication rate, underpowered analyses, biological assumptions and measurement precision. What follows in this review includes (1) an introduction to the study of GEI, (2) the evidence of GEI in the field of obesity, (3) an outline of the biological mechanisms that may explain these interaction effects, (4) methodological challenges associated with GEI studies and potential solutions, and (5) future directions of GEI research. Thus far, this growing body of evidence has provided a deeper understanding of GEI influencing obesity and may have tremendous applications in the emerging field of personalized medicine and individualized lifestyle recommendations.
In high-, middle- and low-income countries, the rising prevalence of obesity is the underlying cause of numerous health complications and increased mortality. Being a complex and heritable disorder, obesity results from the interplay between genetic susceptibility, epigenetics, metagenomics and the environment. Attempts at understanding the genetic basis of obesity have identified numerous genes associated with syndromic monogenic, non-syndromic monogenic, oligogenic and polygenic obesity. The genetics of leanness are also considered relevant as it mirrors some of obesity's aetiologies. In this report, we summarize ten genetically elucidated obesity syndromes, some of which are involved in ciliary functioning. We comprehensively review 11 monogenic obesity genes identified to date and their role in energy maintenance as part of the leptin–melanocortin pathway. With the emergence of genome-wide association studies over the last decade, 227 genetic variants involved in different biological pathways (central nervous system, food sensing and digestion, adipocyte differentiation, insulin signalling, lipid metabolism, muscle and liver biology, gut microbiota) have been associated with polygenic obesity. Advances in obligatory and facilitated epigenetic variation, and gene–environment interaction studies have partly accounted for the missing heritability of obesity and provided additional insight into its aetiology. The role of gut microbiota in obesity pathophysiology, as well as the 12 genes associated with lipodystrophies is discussed. Furthermore, in an attempt to improve future studies and merge the gap between research and clinical practice, we provide suggestions on how high-throughput ‘-omic’ data can be integrated in order to get closer to the new age of personalized medicine.