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The effect of plasma lipids and lipid lowering interventions on bone mineral density: a Mendelian randomization study

By Jie Zheng, Marie-Jo Brion, John P Kemp, Nicole M. Warrington, Maria-Carolina Borges, Gibran Hemani, Tom Richardson, Zhen Qiao, Philip Haycock, Mika Ala-Korpela, George Davey Smith, Jon H Tobias, David M Evans

Posted 05 Dec 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/480426

Statin treatment increases bone mineral density (BMD) and reduces fracture risk, but the underlying mechanism is unclear. We used Mendelian randomization (MR) to assess whether this relation is explained by a specific effect in response to statin use, or by a general effect of lipid-lowering. We utilized 400 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) robustly associated with plasma lipid levels and results from a heel BMD GWAS (derived from quantitative ultrasound) in 426,824 individuals from the UK Biobank. We performed univariate and multivariable MR analyses of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and triglyceride levels on BMD. To test whether the effect of statins on BMD was mediated by lowering lipid levels, MR was repeated with and without SNPs in the HMGCR region, the gene targeted by statins. Univariate MR analyses provided evidence for a causal effect of LDL-C on BMD (β = -0.060; -0.084 to -0.036; P = 4x10-6; standard deviation change in BMD per standard deviation change in LDL-C, with 95% CI), but not HDL or triglycerides. Multivariable MR analysis suggested that the effect of LDL-C on BMD was independent of HDL-C and triglycerides, and sensitivity analyses involving MR Egger and weighted median MR approaches suggested that the LDL-C results were robust to pleiotropy. MR analyses of LDL-C restricted to SNPs in the HMGCR region showed similar effects on BMD (β = -0.083; -0.132 to -0.034; P = 0.001) to those excluding these SNPs (β= -0.063; -0.090 to -0.036; P = 8x10-6). Bidirectional MR analyses provided some evidence for a causal effect of BMD on plasma LDL-C levels. Our results suggest that effects of statins on BMD are at least partly due to their LDL-C lowering effect. Further studies are required to examine the potential role of modifying plasma lipid levels in treating osteoporosis.

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