Genetic association of lipids and lipid-lowering drug target genes with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

EBioMedicine. 2023 Apr;90:104543. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2023.104543. Epub 2023 Mar 30.


Background: Some observational studies found that dyslipidaemia is a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and lipid-lowering drugs may lower NAFLD risk. However, it remains unclear whether dyslipidaemia is causative for NAFLD. This Mendelian randomisation (MR) study aimed to explore the causal role of lipid traits in NAFLD and evaluate the potential effect of lipid-lowering drug targets on NAFLD.

Methods: Genetic variants associated with lipid traits and variants of genes encoding lipid-lowering drug targets were extracted from the Global Lipids Genetics Consortium genome-wide association study (GWAS). Summary statistics for NAFLD were obtained from two independent GWAS datasets. Lipid-lowering drug targets that reached significance were further tested using expression quantitative trait loci data in relevant tissues. Colocalisation and mediation analyses were performed to validate the robustness of the results and explore potential mediators.

Findings: No significant effect of lipid traits and eight lipid-lowering drug targets on NAFLD risk was found. Genetic mimicry of lipoprotein lipase (LPL) enhancement was associated with lower NAFLD risks in two independent datasets (OR1 = 0.60 [95% CI 0.50-0.72], p1 = 2.07 × 10-8; OR2 = 0.57 [95% CI 0.39-0.82], p2 = 3.00 × 10-3). A significant MR association (OR = 0.71 [95% CI, 0.58-0.87], p = 1.20 × 10-3) and strong colocalisation association (PP.H4 = 0.85) with NAFLD were observed for LPL expression in subcutaneous adipose tissue. Fasting insulin and type 2 diabetes mediated 7.40% and 9.15%, respectively, of the total effect of LPL on NAFLD risk.

Interpretation: Our findings do not support dyslipidaemia as a causal factor for NAFLD. Among nine lipid-lowering drug targets, LPL is a promising candidate drug target in NAFLD. The mechanism of action of LPL in NAFLD may be independent of its lipid-lowering effects.

Funding: Capital's Funds for Health Improvement and Research (2022-4-4037). CAMS Innovation Fund for Medical Sciences (CIFMS, grant number: 2021-I2M-C&T-A-010).

Keywords: LDL-C; Mendelian randomization; Statins; TG; eQTL.

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods
  • Humans
  • Lipids
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis / methods
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / etiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Risk Factors


  • Lipids