Low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) is associated with cardiometabolic pathologies. In this study, we investigate the biological pathways and individual genes behind low HDL-C by integrating results from 3 high-throughput data sources: adipose tissue transcriptomics, HDL lipidomics, and dense marker genotypes from Finnish individuals with low or high HDL-C (n=450).
In the pathway analysis of genetic data, we demonstrate that genetic variants within inflammatory pathways were enriched among low HDL-C associated single-nucleotide polymorphisms, and the expression of these pathways upregulated in the adipose tissue of low HDL-C subjects. The lipidomic analysis highlighted the change in HDL particle quality toward putatively more inflammatory and less vasoprotective state in subjects with low HDL-C, as evidenced by their decreased antioxidative plasmalogen contents. We show that the focal point of these inflammatory pathways seems to be the HLA region with its low HDL-associated alleles also associating with more abundant local transcript levels in adipose tissue, increased plasma vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM1) levels, and decreased HDL particle plasmalogen contents, markers of adipose tissue inflammation, vascular inflammation, and HDL antioxidative potential, respectively. In a population-based look-up of the inflammatory pathway single-nucleotide polymorphisms in a large Finnish cohorts (n=11 211), no association of the HLA region was detected for HDL-C as quantitative trait, but with extreme HDL-C phenotypes, implying the presence of low or high HDL genes in addition to the population-genomewide association studies-identified HDL genes.
Our study highlights the role of inflammation with a genetic component in subjects with low HDL-C and identifies novel cis-expression quantitative trait loci (cis-eQTL) variants in HLA region to be associated with low HDL-C.