Genome-wide association and Mendelian randomization study of fibroblast growth factor 21 reveals causal associations with hyperlipidemia and possibly NASH

Metabolism. 2022 Dec:137:155329. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2022.155329. Epub 2022 Oct 5.


Background: Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) is a hepatokine that produces metabolic benefits, such as improvements of lipid profile. We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify genetic variants associated with circulating FGF21 and investigated the causal effects of FGF21 on pertinent outcomes using Mendelian randomization (MR).

Methods: We conducted a GWAS testing ∼7.8 million DNA sequence variants with circulating FGF21 in a discovery cohort of 6259 Swedish adults with replication in 4483 Swedish women. We then performed two-sample MR analyses of genetically predicted circulating FGF21 in relation to alcohol and nutrient intake, cardiovascular and metabolic biomarkers and diseases, and liver function biomarkers using publicly available GWAS summary statistics data.

Results: Our GWAS identified multiple single-nucleotide polymorphisms with genome-wide significant associations (P < 5 × 10-8) with circulating FGF21 on chromosomes 2 and 19 in or near the GCKR and FGF21 genes, respectively. The strongest signal at the FGF21 locus (rs2548957, β = 0.181, P < 2.18 × 10-42) displayed in two-sample MR analyses robust associations with lower alcohol intake, lower circulating low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, apolipoprotein B, C-reactive protein, gamma-glutamyl transferase, and galectin-3 concentrations, and higher circulating insulin-like growth factor-I and alkaline phosphatase concentrations after correcting for multiple testing (P < 0.0018) whereas associations with fat mass, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease were largely null.

Conclusions: We identified robust associations of certain genetic variants in or near the GCKR and FGF21 genes with circulating FGF21 concentrations. Furthermore, our results support a strong causal effect of FGF21 on improved lipid profile, reduced alcohol consumption and C-reactive protein concentrations, and liver function biomarkers including fibrosis. We found largely null or weak positive associations with fat mass, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as well as higher insulin-like growth factor-I concentrations, which could indicate a compensatory increase to regulate the above FGF21 resistant states in humans.

Keywords: Alkaline phosphatase; Fibroblast growth factor 21; Genome-wide association study; Hepatokine; Mendelian randomization; Single-nucleotide polymorphisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / genetics
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / genetics
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias* / genetics
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Male
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Metabolic Diseases*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


  • Biomarkers
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • fibroblast growth factor 21
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I