Educational attainment as a modifier for the effect of polygenic scores for cardiovascular risk factors: cross-sectional and prospective analysis of UK Biobank

Alice R Carter*, Sean Harrison, Dipender Gill, George Davey Smith, Amy E Taylor, Laura D Howe, Neil M Davies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Understanding the interplay between educational attainment and genetic predictors of cardiovascular risk may improve our understanding of the aetiology of educational inequalities in cardiovascular disease.

In up to 320 120 UK Biobank participants of White British ancestry (mean age = 57, female 54%), we created polygenic scores for nine cardiovascular risk factors or diseases: alcohol consumption, body mass index, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, lifetime smoking behaviour, systolic blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. We estimated whether educational attainment modified genetic susceptibility to these risk factors and diseases.

On the additive scale, higher educational attainment reduced genetic susceptibility to higher BMI, smoking, atrial fibrillation, and type 2 diabetes, but increased genetic susceptibility to higher LDL-C and higher systolic blood pressure.
On the multiplicative scale, there was evidence that higher educational attainment increased genetic susceptibility to atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease, but little evidence of effect modification was found for all other traits considered.

Educational attainment modifies the genetic susceptibility to some cardiovascular risk factors and diseases. The direction of this effect was mixed across traits considered and differences in associations between the effect of the polygenic score across strata of educational attainment was uniformly small. Therefore, any effect modification by education of genetic susceptibility to cardiovascular risk factors or diseases is unlikely to substantially explain the development of inequalities in cardiovascular risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdyac002
Pages (from-to)885-897
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.


  • polygenic scores
  • education
  • inequalities
  • cardiovascular disease
  • gene*environment interactions


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