A quarter of the world’s population is estimated to meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome (MetS), a cluster of cardiometabolic risk factors that promote development of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes, leading to increased risk of premature death and significant health costs. In this study we investigate whether the genetics associated with MetS components mirror their phenotypic clustering. A multivariate approach that leverages genetic correlations of fasting glucose, HDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, triglycerides, and waist circumference was used, which revealed that these genetic correlations are best captured by a genetic one factor model. The common genetic factor genome-wide association study (GWAS) detects 235 associated loci, 174 more than the largest GWAS on MetS to date. Of these loci, 53 (22.5%) overlap with loci identified for two or more MetS components, indicating that MetS is a complex, heterogeneous disorder. Associated loci harbor genes that show increased expression in the brain, especially in GABAergic and dopaminergic neurons. A polygenic risk score drafted from the MetS factor GWAS predicts 5.9% of the variance in MetS. These results provide mechanistic insights into the genetics of MetS and suggestions for drug targets, especially fenofibrate, which has the promise of tackling multiple MetS components.

This article contains supplementary material online at https://doi.org/10.2337/figshare.20497188.

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