Background: High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), and triglyceride (TG) levels are influenced by both genes and the environment. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified ~100 common genetic variants associated with HDL-C, LDL-C, and/or TG levels, mostly in populations of European descent, but little is known about the modifiers of these associations. Here, we investigated whether GWAS-identified SNPs for lipid traits exhibited heterogeneity by sex in the Population Architecture using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE) study.
Results: A sex-stratified meta-analysis was performed for 49 GWAS-identified SNPs for fasting HDL-C, LDL-C, and ln(TG) levels among adults self-identified as European American (25,013). Heterogeneity by sex was established when phet < 0.001. There was evidence for heterogeneity by sex for two SNPs for ln(TG) in the APOA1/C3/A4/A5/BUD13 gene cluster: rs28927680 (p(het) = 7.4 x 10(-7)) and rs3135506 (p(het) = 4.3 x 10(-4)one SNP in PLTP for HDL levels (rs7679; p(het) = 9.9 x 10(-4)), and one in HMGCR for LDL levels (rs12654264; p(het) = 3.1 x 10(-5)). We replicated heterogeneity by sex in five of seventeen loci previously reported by genome-wide studies (binomial p = 0.0009). We also present results for other racial/ethnic groups in the supplementary materials, to provide a resource for future meta-analyses.
Conclusions: We provide further evidence for sex-specific effects of SNPs in the APOA1/C3/A4/A5/BUD13 gene cluster, PLTP, and HMGCR on fasting triglyceride levels in European Americans from the PAGE study. Our findings emphasize the need for considering context-specific effects when interpreting genetic associations emerging from GWAS, and also highlight the difficulties in replicating interaction effects across studies and across racial/ethnic groups.