Identification of Novel Genetic Determinants of Erythrocyte Membrane Fatty Acid Composition among Greenlanders

PLoS Genet. 2016 Jun 24;12(6):e1006119. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006119. eCollection 2016 Jun.


Fatty acids (FAs) are involved in cellular processes important for normal body function, and perturbation of FA balance has been linked to metabolic disturbances, including type 2 diabetes. An individual's level of FAs is affected by diet, lifestyle, and genetic variation. We aimed to improve the understanding of the mechanisms and pathways involved in regulation of FA tissue levels, by identifying genetic loci associated with inter-individual differences in erythrocyte membrane FA levels. We assessed the levels of 22 FAs in the phospholipid fraction of erythrocyte membranes from 2,626 Greenlanders in relation to single nucleotide polymorphisms genotyped on the MetaboChip or imputed. We identified six independent association signals. Novel loci were identified on chromosomes 5 and 11 showing strongest association with oleic acid (rs76430747 in ACSL6, beta (SE): -0.386% (0.034), p = 1.8x10-28) and docosahexaenoic acid (rs6035106 in DTD1, 0.137% (0.025), p = 6.4x10-8), respectively. For a missense variant (rs80356779) in CPT1A, we identified a number of novel FA associations, the strongest with 11-eicosenoic acid (0.473% (0.035), p = 2.6x10-38), and for variants in FADS2 (rs174570), LPCAT3 (rs2110073), and CERS4 (rs11881630) we replicated known FA associations. Moreover, we observed metabolic implications of the ACSL6 (rs76430747) and CPT1A (rs80356779) variants, which both were associated with altered HbA1c (0.051% (0.013), p = 5.6x10-6 and -0.034% (0.016), p = 3.1x10-4, respectively). The latter variant was also associated with reduced insulin resistance (HOMA-IR, -0.193 (0.050), p = 3.8x10-6), as well as measures of smaller body size, including weight (-2.676 kg (0.523), p = 2.4x10-7), lean mass (-1.200 kg (0.271), p = 1.7x10-6), height (-0.966 cm (0.230), p = 2.0x10-5), and BMI (-0.638 kg/m2 (0.181), p = 2.8x10-4). In conclusion, we have identified novel genetic determinants of FA composition in phospholipids in erythrocyte membranes, and have shown examples of links between genetic variants associated with altered FA membrane levels and changes in metabolic traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Size / genetics
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase / genetics
  • Coenzyme A Ligases / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / genetics
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / genetics*
  • Fatty Acids / genetics*
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genetic Loci / genetics
  • Genotype
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / genetics
  • Greenland
  • Humans
  • Insulin / genetics
  • Insulin Resistance / genetics
  • Male
  • Oleic Acid / genetics
  • Phospholipids / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Insulin
  • Phospholipids
  • hemoglobin A1c protein, human
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Oleic Acid
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase
  • carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1A, human
  • Coenzyme A Ligases
  • ACSL6 protein, human
  • eicosenoic acid