Pleiotropic associations of heterozygosity for the SERPINA1 Z allele in the UK Biobank

Katherine R Fawcett*, Nicholas John Timpson, Raquel Granell, Susan M Ring

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Homozygosity for the SERPINA1 Z allele causes α1-antitrypsin deficiency, a rare condition that can cause lung and liver disease. However, the effects of Z allele heterozygosity on nonrespiratory phenotypes, and on lung function in the general population, remain unclear. We conducted a large, population-based study to determine Z allele effects on >2400 phenotypes in the UK Biobank (N=303 353). Z allele heterozygosity was strongly associated with increased height (β=1.02 cm, p=3.91×10−68), and with other nonrespiratory phenotypes including increased risk of gall bladder disease, reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure, reduced risk of osteoarthritis and reduced bone mineral density, increased risk of headache and enlarged prostate, as well as with blood biomarkers of liver function. Heterozygosity was associated with higher height-adjusted forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) (β=19.36 mL, p=9.21×10−4) and FEV1/forced vital capacity (β=0.0031, p=1.22×10−5) in nonsmokers, whereas in smokers, this protective effect was abolished. Furthermore, we show for the first time that sex modifies the association of the Z allele on lung function. We conclude that Z allele heterozygosity and homozygosity exhibit opposing effects on lung function in the UK population, and that these associations are modified by smoking and sex. In exploratory analyses, heterozygosity for the Z allele also showed pleiotropic associations with nonrespiratory health-related traits and disease risk. Tweetable abstract @ERSpublications click to tweet Heterozygosity for the SERPINA1 Z allele is associated with higher lung function in nonsmokers (but this advantage is abolished by smoking) as well as a variety of nonrespiratory diseases and traits, including liver-, heart- and bone-related conditions https://bit.ly/37XC0Yg Introduction Homozygosity for the SERPINA1 Z allele (rs28929474(T)) is the commonest cause of severe α1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) and is a well-established genetic risk factor for lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, the health consequences of heterozygosity for the Z allele are not as well-understood [1]. Given that approximately one in 30 Europeans is heterozygous for the Z allele, the phenotypic consequences of carriage of this allele could have important public health implications. Some previous studies have sought to characterise the effect of Z allele heterozygosity on nonrespiratory traits, particularly liver diseases [2–6]. However, these have often been carried out in small sample sizes and/or clinical subgroups. The recent development of phenome-wide association studies (PheWASs) and the availability of the well-phenotyped UK Biobank population-based cohort provides a platform for systematic investigation of the effects of heterozygosity for the Z allele on nonrespiratory traits. PheWASs test the association between genetic variants and a large number of phenotypic traits, including diseases and their subtypes, and potential intermediate phenotypes [7]. This differs from genome-wide association studies, which test a large number of variants across the genome for association with only one trait. The effect of Z allele heterozygosity on lung function traits and lung disease has been the subject of many studies. Recent COPD case–control and family-based studies have shown reduced lung function and increased risk of COPD in heterozygous current and former smokers [8–11]. However, a population-based study demonstrated no significant reductions in lung function in heterozygous smokers, despite having greater numbers of heterozygous smokers compared to previous studies [12]. It also showed enhanced lung function in heterozygous individuals overall, partially explained by strong association of the Z allele with increased height. This discrepancy may be due, in part, to the fact that identifying and recruiting study participants based on their health status (as in case–control studies [8, 9]) or based on the health status of a family member [10, 11] can lead to causal estimates that are subject to ascertainment bias [13], whereas population-based studies [12, 14] overcome these biases. The effects of the Z allele on lung function in relation to smoking status therefore remain uncertain. Finally, despite evidence for sex-differential effects of Z allele homozygosity on lung function [15, 16], we are not aware of any studies that have compared the effect of Z allele heterozygosity on lung function in males versus females. We therefore systematically evaluated the effects of Z allele heterozygosity in the UK biobank population, which in total includes >18 000 Z allele heterozygotes. We aimed: 1) to undertake the most extensive PheWAS to date, including blood biomarkers, for Z allele heterozygosity and homozygosity to identify effects beyond the respiratory system; and 2) to fully define the effects of Z allele heterozygosity on lung function measures (forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC)) in smokers and nonsmokers and in males and females.
Original languageEnglish
Article number00049-2021
Number of pages11
JournalERJ Open Research
Volume7
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2021

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