Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The causes of temporal fluctuations in adult traits are poorly understood. Here, we investigate the genetic determinants of within-person trait variability of 8 repeatedly measured anthropometric traits in 50,117 individuals from the UK Biobank. We found that within-person (non-directional) variability had a SNP-based heritability of 2-5% for height, sitting height, body mass index (BMI) and weight (P ≤ 2.4 × 10-3). We also analysed longitudinal trait change and show a loss of both average height and weight beyond about 70 years of age. A variant tracking the Alzheimer's risk APOE- E 4 allele (rs429358) was significantly associated with weight loss ( β  = -0.047 kg per yr, s.e. 0.007, P = 2.2 × 10-11), and using 2-sample Mendelian Randomisation we detected a relationship consistent with causality between decreased lumbar spine bone mineral density and height loss (bxy = 0.011, s.e. 0.003, P = 3.5 × 10-4). Finally, population-level variance quantitative trait loci (vQTL) were consistent with within-person variability for several traits, indicating an overlap between trait variability assessed at the population or individual level. Our findings help elucidate the genetic influence on trait-change within an individual and highlight disease risks associated with these changes.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Humans, United Kingdom, Biological Specimen Banks, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Male, Female, Body Mass Index, Aged, Quantitative Trait Loci, Middle Aged, Body Height, Longitudinal Studies, Apolipoproteins E, Anthropometry, Mendelian Randomization Analysis, Bone Density, Body Weight, Adult, Alzheimer Disease, Genome-Wide Association Study, Lumbar Vertebrae, Alleles, UK Biobank