Effect of Body Weight on Age at Onset in Huntington Disease: A Mendelian Randomization Study


Weight loss is associated with clinical progression in Huntington disease (HD), but whether body weight causally affects disease onset or progression is unknown. Therefore, we aimed to assess whether genetically determined variations in body weight are causally related to age at onset in HD.


Using data from different recent genome-wide association studies, we performed a 2-sample mendelian randomization (MR) analysis to assess whether genetic markers of body mass index (BMI) are causally related to residual age at onset in HD, i.e., the difference between observed and expected age at onset based on mutation size. Our study had a statistical power of 90% to detect a causal effect of ≥3.8 months per BMI unit change at a type I error rate of 0.05.


Inverse-variance weighted MR estimates showed that a higher genetically determined BMI was not causally related to residual age at onset in HD (β = –0.44 years per unit increase in BMI, confidence interval: –1.33 to 0.46, p = 0.34). All other complementary (nonparametric) MR regression methods yielded similar results.


Although maintaining a healthy and stable body weight remains important in patients with HD, promoting weight gain with the aim of delaying disease onset or slowing down disease progression should be discouraged. Our findings point toward the existence of underlying pathologic processes that dictate both the rate of clinical progression and weight loss in HD, which need further elucidation as targeting these pathways, rather than body weight per se, could be of therapeutic value.

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