Recent genome-wide association (GWA) studies described 95 loci controlling serum lipid levels. These common variants explain ∼25% of the heritability of the phenotypes. To date, no unbiased screen for gene–environment interactions for circulating lipids has been reported. We screened for variants that modify the relationship between known epidemiological risk factors and circulating lipid levels in a meta-analysis of genome-wide association (GWA) data from 18 population-based cohorts with European ancestry (maximum N = 32,225). We collected 8 further cohorts (N = 17,102) for replication, and rs6448771 on 4p15 demonstrated genome-wide significant interaction with waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR) on total cholesterol (TC) with a combined P-value of 4.79×10−9. There were two potential candidate genes in the region, PCDH7 and CCKAR, with differential expression levels for rs6448771 genotypes in adipose tissue. The effect of WHR on TC was strongest for individuals carrying two copies of G allele, for whom a one standard deviation (sd) difference in WHR corresponds to 0.19 sd difference in TC concentration, while for A allele homozygous the difference was 0.12 sd. Our findings may open up possibilities for targeted intervention strategies for people characterized by specific genomic profiles. However, more refined measures of both body-fat distribution and metabolic measures are needed to understand how their joint dynamics are modified by the newly found locus.
Circulating serum lipids contribute greatly to the global health by affecting the risk for cardiovascular diseases. Serum lipid levels are partly inherited, and already 95 loci affecting high- and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides have been found. Serum lipids are also known to be affected by multiple epidemiological risk factors like body composition, lifestyle, and sex. It has been hypothesized that there are loci modifying the effects between risk factors and serum lipids, but to date only candidate gene studies for interactions have been reported. We conducted a genome-wide screen with meta-analysis approach to identify loci having interactions with epidemiological risk factors on serum lipids with over 30,000 population-based samples. When combining results from our initial datasets and 8 additional replication cohorts (maximum N = 17,102), we found a genome-wide significant locus in chromosome 4p15 with a joint P-value of 4.79×10−9 modifying the effect of waist-to-hip ratio on total cholesterol. In the area surrounding this genetic variant, there were two genes having association between the genotypes and the gene expression in adipose tissue, and we also found enrichment of association in genes belonging to lipid metabolism related functions.