Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) clusters in families, but the only known common genetic variants influencing risk are near PNPLA3. We sought to identify additional genetic variants influencing NAFLD using genome-wide association (GWA) analysis of computed tomography (CT) measured hepatic steatosis, a non-invasive measure of NAFLD, in large population based samples. Using variance components methods, we show that CT hepatic steatosis is heritable (∼26%–27%) in family-based Amish, Family Heart, and Framingham Heart Studies (n = 880 to 3,070). By carrying out a fixed-effects meta-analysis of genome-wide association (GWA) results between CT hepatic steatosis and ∼2.4 million imputed or genotyped SNPs in 7,176 individuals from the Old Order Amish, Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility-Reykjavik study (AGES), Family Heart, and Framingham Heart Studies, we identify variants associated at genome-wide significant levels (p<5×10−8) in or near PNPLA3, NCAN, and PPP1R3B. We genotype these and 42 other top CT hepatic steatosis-associated SNPs in 592 subjects with biopsy-proven NAFLD from the NASH Clinical Research Network (NASH CRN). In comparisons with 1,405 healthy controls from the Myocardial Genetics Consortium (MIGen), we observe significant associations with histologic NAFLD at variants in or near NCAN, GCKR, LYPLAL1, and PNPLA3, but not PPP1R3B. Variants at these five loci exhibit distinct patterns of association with serum lipids, as well as glycemic and anthropometric traits. We identify common genetic variants influencing CT–assessed steatosis and risk of NAFLD. Hepatic steatosis associated variants are not uniformly associated with NASH/fibrosis or result in abnormalities in serum lipids or glycemic and anthropometric traits, suggesting genetic heterogeneity in the pathways influencing these traits.
NAFLD is a spectrum of disease that ranges from steatosis to steatohepatitis (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH: inflammation around the fat) to fibrosis/cirrhosis. Hepatic steatosis can be measured non-invasively using computed tomography (CT) whereas NASH/fibrosis is assessed histologically. The genetic underpinnings of NAFLD remain to be determined. Here we estimate that 26%–27% of the variation in CT measured hepatic steatosis is heritable or genetic. We identify three variants near PNPLAL3, NCAN, and PPP1R3B that associate with CT hepatic steatosis and show that variants in or near NCAN, GCKR, LYPLAL1, and PNPLA3, but not PPP1R3B, associate with histologic lobular inflammation/fibrosis. Variants in or near NCAN, GCKR, and PPP1R3B associate with altered serum lipid levels, whereas those in or near LYPLAL1 and PNPLA3 do not. Variants near GCKR and PPP1R3B also affect glycemic traits. Thus, we show that NAFLD is genetically influenced and expand the number of common genetic variants that associate with this trait. Our findings suggest that development of hepatic steatosis, NASH/fibrosis, or abnormalities in metabolic traits are probably influenced by different metabolic pathways that may represent distinct therapeutic targets.