Genetic risk accentuates dietary effects on hepatic steatosis, inflammation and fibrosis in a population-based cohort

Vincent L. Chen, Xiaomeng Du, Antonino Oliveri, Yanhua Chen, Annapurna Kuppa, Brian D. Halligan, Michael A. Province, Elizabeth K. Speliotes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background & Aims: Steatotic liver disease (SLD), characterized by elevated liver fat content (LFC), is influenced by genetics and diet. However, whether diet has a differential effect based on genetic risk is not well-characterized. We aimed to determine how genetic factors interact with diet to affect SLD in a large national biobank. Methods: We included UK Biobank participants with dietary intake measured by 24-hour recall and genotyping. The primary predictors were dietary pattern, PNPLA3-rs738409-G, TM6SF2-rs58542926-T, a 16-variant hepatic steatosis polygenic risk score (PRS), and gene-environment interactions. The primary outcome was LFC, and secondary outcomes were iron-controlled T1 time (cT1, a measure of liver inflammation and fibrosis) and liver-related events/mortality. Results: A total of 21,619 participants met inclusion criteria. In non-interaction models, Mediterranean diet and intake of fruit/vegetables/legumes and fish associated with lower LFC, while higher red/processed meat intake and all genetic predictors associated with higher LFC. In interaction models, all genetic predictors interacted with Mediterranean diet and fruit/vegetable/legume intake, while the steatosis PRS interacted with fish intake and the TM6SF2 genotype interacted with red/processed meat intake, to affect LFC. Dietary effects on LFC were up to 3.8-fold higher in PNPLA3-rs738409-GG vs. –CC individuals, and 1.4-3.0-fold higher in the top vs. bottom quartile of the steatosis PRS. Gene-diet interactions were stronger in participants with vs. without overweight. The steatosis PRS interacted with Mediterranean diet and fruit/vegetable/legume intake to affect cT1 and most dietary and genetic predictors associated with risk of liver-related events or mortality by age 70. Conclusions: Effects of diet on LFC and cT1 were markedly accentuated in patients at increased genetic risk for SLD, implying dietary interventions may be more impactful in these populations. Impact and implications: Genetic variants and diet both influence risk of hepatic steatosis, inflammation/fibrosis, and hepatic decompensation; however, how gene-diet interactions influence these outcomes has previously not been comprehensively characterized. We investigated this topic in the community-based UK Biobank and found that genetic risk and dietary quality interacted to influence hepatic steatosis and inflammation/fibrosis on liver MRI, so that the effects of diet were greater in people at elevated genetic risk. These results are relevant for patients and medical providers because they show that genetic risk is not fixed (i.e. modifiable factors can mitigate or exacerbate this risk) and realistic dietary changes may result in meaningful improvement in liver steatosis and inflammation/fibrosis. As genotyping becomes more routinely used in clinical practice, patients identified to be at high baseline genetic risk may benefit even more from intensive dietary counseling than those at lower risk, though future prospective studies are required.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Hepatology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • 24 hour recall
  • gene-environment interaction
  • Mediterranean diet
  • PNPLA3
  • polygenic risk score
  • SLD
  • TM6SF2


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