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  • Steatosis and all other related phenotypes examined were significantly heritable.

  • Liver fat showed significant genetic correlation with various phenotypes.

  • The strongest genetic correlation of liver fat was with insulin resistance.

  • Glucose homeostasis phenotypes were also genetically correlated to adiposity traits.


Background and aims

Hepatic steatosis is known to be heritable, but its genetic basis is mostly uncharacterized. Steatosis is associated with metabolic and adiposity features; recent studies hypothesize that shared genetic effects between these traits could account for some of the unexplained heritability. This study aimed to quantify these genetic associations in a family-based sample of non-Hispanic white adults.

Methods and results

704 participants (18–95 years, 55.8% female) from the Fels Longitudinal Study with an MRI assessment of liver fat were included. Quantitative genetic analyses estimated the age- and sex-adjusted heritability of individual traits and the genetic correlations within trait pairs. Mean liver fat was 5.95% (SE = 0.23) and steatosis (liver fat >5.56%) was present in 29.8% of participants. Heritability (h2± SE) of steatosis was 0.72 ± 0.17 (p = 6.80e−6). All other traits including liver enzymes, fasting glucose, HOMA-IR, visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue (VAT, SAT), body mass index, body fat percent, waist circumference, lipids and blood pressure were also heritable. Significant genetic correlations were found between liver fat and all traits except aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and among most trait pairs. Highest genetic correlations were between liver fat and HOMA-IR (0.85 ± 0.08, p = 1.73e−8), fasting glucose and ALT (0.89 ± 0.26, p = 6.68e−5), and HOMA-IR with: waist circumference (0.81 ± 0.12, p = 3.76e−6), body fat percent (0.78 ± 0.12 p = 2.42e−5) and VAT (0.73 ± 0.07, p = 6.37e−8).


Common genes may exist between liver fat accumulation, metabolic features and adiposity phenotypes.


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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Title

Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD



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Mentor/PI Department

Office of Human Genetics



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