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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2020 Jan;40(1):267-278. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.119.313381. Epub 2019 Nov 7.

Causal Inference for Genetically Determined Levels of High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol and Risk of Infectious Disease.

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From the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (M.T., K.R.W., J.H.B., L.R.B.), associated with the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Department of Experimental Medicine Program (M.T., J.H.B., L.R.B.), associated with the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Department of Medicine (K.R.W., J.H.B., L.R.B.) associated with the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.



HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (HDL-C) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (LDL-C) are inversely associated with infectious hospitalizations. Whether these represent causal relationships is unknown. Approach and Results: Adults of 40 to 69 years of age were recruited from across the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2010 and followed until March 31, 2016, as part of the UK Biobank. We determined HDL-C, LDL-C, and triglyceride polygenic scores for UK Biobank participants of British white ancestry (n=407‚ÄČ558). We examined the association of lipid levels and polygenic scores with infectious hospitalizations, antibiotic usage, and 28-day sepsis survival using Cox proportional hazards or logistic regression models. Measured levels of HDL-C and LDL-C were inversely associated with risk of infectious hospitalizations, while triglycerides displayed a positive association. A 1-mmol/L increase in genetically determined levels of HDL-C associated with a hazard ratio for infectious disease of 0.84 ([95% CI, 0.75-0.95]; P=0.004). Mendelian randomization using genetic variants associated with HDL-C as an instrumental variable was consistent with a causal relationship between elevated HDL-C and reduced risk of infectious hospitalizations (inverse weighted variance method, P=0.001). Furthermore, of 3222 participants who experienced an index episode of sepsis, there was a significant inverse association between continuous HDL-C polygenic score and 28-day mortality (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.37 [95% CI, 0.14-0.96] per 1 mmol/L increase; P=0.04). LDL-C and triglyceride polygenic scores were not significantly associated with hospitalization for infection, antibiotic use, or sepsis mortality.


Our results provide causal inference for an inverse relationship between HDL-C, but not LDL-C or triglycerides, and risk of an infectious hospitalization.


adult; genetics; humans; immune system; infection


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