Is High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Causally Related to Kidney Function?: Evidence From Genetic Epidemiological Studies

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A recent observational study with almost 2 million men reported an association between low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and worse kidney function. The causality of this association would be strongly supported if genetic variants associated with HDL cholesterol were also associated with kidney function.

Approach and Results—

We used 68 genetic variants (single-nucleotide polymorphisms [SNPs]) associated with HDL cholesterol in genome-wide association studies including >188 000 subjects and tested their association with estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) using summary statistics from another genome-wide association studies meta-analysis of kidney function including ≤133 413 subjects. Fourteen of the 68 SNPs (21%) had a P value <0.05 compared with the 5% expected by chance (Binomial test P=5.8×10−6). After Bonferroni correction, 6 SNPs were still significantly associated with eGFR. The genetic variants with the strongest associations with HDL cholesterol concentrations were not the same as those with the strongest association with kidney function and vice versa. An evaluation of pleiotropy indicated that the effects of the HDL-associated SNPs on eGFR were not mediated by HDL cholesterol. In addition, we performed a Mendelian randomization analysis. This analysis revealed a positive but nonsignificant causal effect of HDL cholesterol–increasing variants on eGFR.


In summary, our findings indicate that HDL cholesterol does not causally influence eGFR and propose pleiotropic effects on eGFR for some HDL cholesterol–associated SNPs. This may cause the observed association by mechanisms other than the mere HDL cholesterol concentration.

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