Genetics of Plasma Bilirubin and Associations between Bilirubin and Cardiometabolic Risk Profiles in Danish Children and Adolescents

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Bilirubin is the end product of heme catabolism, mainly produced by the breakdown of mature red blood cells. Due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antidiabetic, and antilipemic properties, circulating bilirubin concentrations are inversely associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality in adults. Some genetic loci associated with circulating bilirubin concentrations have been identified by genome-wide association studies in adults. We aimed to examine the relationship between circulating bilirubin, cardiometabolic risk factors, and inflammation in children and adolescents and the genetic architecture of plasma bilirubin concentrations. We measured fasting plasma bilirubin, cardiometabolic risk factors, and inflammatory markers in a sample of Danish children and adolescents with overweight or obesity (n = 1530) and in a population-based sample (n = 1820) of Danish children and adolescents. Linear and logistic regression analyses were performed to analyze the associations between bilirubin, cardiometabolic risk factors, and inflammatory markers. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) of fasting plasma concentrations of bilirubin was performed in children and adolescents with overweight or obesity and in a population-based sample. Bilirubin is associated inversely and significantly with a number of cardiometabolic risk factors, including body mass index (BMI) standard deviation scores (SDS), waist circumference, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), homeostatic model assessment for insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), triglycerides, and the majority of measured inflammatory markers. In contrast, bilirubin was positively associated with fasting plasma concentrations of alanine transaminase (ALT), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), systolic blood pressure (SDS), and the inflammatory markers GH, PTX3, THBS2, TNFRSF9, PGF, PAPPA, GT, CCL23, CX3CL1, SCF, and TRANCE. The GWAS showed that two loci were positively associated with plasma bilirubin concentrations at a p-value threshold of <5 × 10−8 (rs76999922: β = −0.65 SD; p = 4.3 × 10−8, and rs887829: β = 0.78 SD; p = 2.9 × 10−247). Approximately 25% of the variance in plasma bilirubin concentration was explained by rs887829. The rs887829 was not significantly associated with any of the mentioned cardiometabolic risk factors except for hs-CRP. Our findings suggest that plasma concentrations of bilirubin non-causally associates with cardiometabolic risk factors in children and adolescents.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1613
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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© 2023 by the authors.

    Research areas

  • bilirubin, cardiometabolic risk factors, GWAS, inflammatory cytokines, UGT1A1

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