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A bstract Humans are social animals that experience intense suffering when they perceive a lack of social connection. Modern societies are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. While the experience of loneliness is universally human, some people report experiencing greater loneliness than others. Loneliness is more strongly associated with mortality than obesity, emphasizing the need to understand the nature of the relationship between loneliness and health. While it is intuitive that circumstantial factors such as marital status and age influence loneliness, there is also compelling evidence of a genetic predisposition towards loneliness. To better understand the genetic architecture of loneliness and its relationship with associated outcomes, we conducted a genome-wide association (GWAS) meta-analysis of loneliness (N=475,661), report 12 associated loci (two novel) and significant genetic correlations with 34 other complex traits. The polygenic basis for loneliness was significantly enriched for evolutionary constrained genes and genes expressed in specific brain tissues: (frontal) cortex, cerebellum, anterior cingulate cortex, and substantia nigra. We built polygenic scores based on this GWAS meta-analysis to explore the genetic association between loneliness and health outcomes in an independent sample of 18,498 individuals for whom electronic health records were available. A genetic predisposition towards loneliness predicted cardiovascular, psychiatric, and metabolic disorders, and triglycerides and high-density lipoproteins. Mendelian randomization analyses showed evidence of a causal, increasing, effect of body fat on loneliness, and a similar weaker causal effect of BMI. Our results provide a framework for ongoing studies of the genetic basis of loneliness and its role in mental and physical health.

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The 23andme Research Team