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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 Jun;17(6):1240-6. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.4. Epub 2009 Feb 19.

Correlates and heritability of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in a minority cohort.

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Division of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is associated with obesity and insulin resistance. The condition disproportionately affects Hispanic Americans. The aims of this study were to examine the risk factors and heritability of NAFLD in 795 Hispanic American and 347 African-American adults participating in the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study (IRAS) Family Study. Computed tomography (CT) scans of the abdomen were evaluated centrally for measures of liver-spleen (LS) density ratio and abdominal fat distribution. Other measures included insulin sensitivity (SI) calculated from a frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test and various laboratory measures. Statistical models which adjust for familial relationships were estimated separately for the two ethnic groups. Heritability was calculated using a variance components approach. The mean age of the cohort was 49 years (range 22-84); 66% were female. NAFLD (LS ratio<1) was more common in Hispanic Americans (24%) than African Americans (10%). NAFLD was independently associated with SI and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) area in both ethnic groups, although the proportion of explained variance was considerably higher in the Hispanic models. Adiponectin contributed significantly in the African-American models whereas triglycerides (TGs) and plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) contributed only in the Hispanic models. Liver density was modestly heritable in both ethnic groups (h2 approximately 0.35). In summary, the prevalence of NAFLD was twofold greater in Hispanic than African Americans. Certain correlates of NAFLD were similar between the ethnic groups, whereas others were distinct. NAFLD was modestly heritable. These findings suggest that NAFLD may have a differing environmental and/or genetic basis in these ethnic groups.

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