Serum total bilirubin levels and coronary heart disease — Causal association or epiphenomenon?

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Observational epidemiological evidence supports a linear inverse and independent association between serum total bilirubin levels and coronary heart disease (CHD) risk, but whether this association is causal remains to be ascertained. A Mendelian randomization approach was employed to test whether serum total bilirubin is causally linked to CHD. The genetic variant rs6742078 – well known to specifically modify levels of serum total bilirubin and accounting for up to 20% of the variance in circulating serum total bilirubin levels – was used as an instrumental variable. In pooled analysis of estimates reported from published genome-wide association studies, every copy of the T allele of rs6742078 was associated with 0.42 standard deviation (SD) higher levels of serum total bilirubin (95% confidence interval, 0.40 to 0.43). Based on combined data from the Coronary Artery Disease Genome wide Replication and Meta-analyses and the Coronary Artery Disease (C4D) Genetics Consortium involving a total of 36,763 CHD cases and 76,997 controls, the odds ratio for CHD per copy of the T allele was 1.01 (95% confidence interval, 0.99 to 1.04). The odds ratio of CHD for a 1 SD genetically elevated serum total bilirubin level was 1.03 (95% confidence interval, 0.98 to 1.09). The current findings casts doubt on a strong causal association of serum total bilirubin levels with CHD. The inverse associations demonstrated in observational studies may be driven by biases such as unmeasured confounding and/or reverse causation. However, further research in large-scale consortia is needed.

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