Genetic Determinants of Circulating Lipoproteins in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

J Clin Gastroenterol. May/Jun 2018;52(5):444-451. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000000816.


Background: Recent genome-wide association studies have identified 2 genetic polymorphisms in association with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): patatin-like phospholipase domain containing 3 (PNPLA3) and transmembrane 6 superfamily member 2 (TM6SF2), both of which appear to influence the production of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). The impact of these genetic variations on lipoprotein metabolism in the setting of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and liver fibrosis are not fully characterized.

Materials and methods: We measured comprehensive lipoprotein profiles by nuclear magnetic resonance among 170 serially recruited patients in an NAFLD registry, and determined their relationships with PNPLA3 and TM6SF2 genotypes.

Results: In this cohort, 72% patients had at least 1 allele of either PNPLA3 I148M or TM6SF2 E167K, and 30% carried 2 alleles. In multivariate models adjusting for histologic features of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and liver fibrosis, PNPLA3 I148M is associated with a decrease in VLDL particle size. Both PNPLA3 I148M and TM6SF2 E167K genotypes were associated with increases in the size of low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein particles, phenotypes considered atheroprotective. When adjusted for both genotypes, NAFLD activity score, in particular the degree of hepatic steatosis was strongly associated with increases in the size of VLDL particles, the concentration of LDL, especially small LDL particles, and a decrease in the size of high density lipoprotein particles, all of which are linked with a proatherogenic phenotype.

Conclusions: PNPLA3 and TM6SF2 are common genetic variants among NAFLD patients and impact lipoprotein profiles in slightly different ways. The interactions between genotypes, hepatic steatosis, and lipoprotein metabolism shed lights on the pathophysiology of NAFLD, and provide opportunities for personalized treatment in the era of emerging NAFLD therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Lipase / genetics*
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / genetics
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / genetics
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins, VLDL / genetics
  • Lipoproteins, VLDL / metabolism
  • Liver Cirrhosis / genetics*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Prospective Studies


  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Lipoproteins, VLDL
  • Membrane Proteins
  • TM6SF2 protein, human
  • Lipase
  • adiponutrin, human