Open Access Research article

Lipid trait-associated genetic variation is associated with gallstone disease in the diverse Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III)

Robert Goodloe1, Kristin Brown-Gentry1, Niloufar B Gillani1, Hailing Jin1, Ping Mayo1, Melissa Allen1, Bob McClellan1, Jonathan Boston1, Cara Sutcliffe1, Nathalie Schnetz-Boutaud1, Holli H Dilks12 and Dana C Crawford12*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Human Genetics Research, Vanderbilt University, 2215 Garland Avenue, 519 Light Hall, Nashville, Tennessee 37232, USA

2 Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Genetics 2013, 14:120  doi:10.1186/1471-2350-14-120

Published: 21 November 2013



Gallstone disease is one of the most common digestive disorders, affecting more than 30 million Americans. Previous twin studies suggest a heritability of 25% for gallstone formation. To date, one genome-wide association study (GWAS) has been performed in a population of European-descent. Several candidate gene studies have been performed in various populations, but most have been inconclusive. Given that gallstones consist of up to 80% cholesterol, we hypothesized that common genetic variants associated with high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), and triglycerides (TG) would also be associated with gallstone risk.


To test this hypothesis, the Epidemiologic Architecture for Genes Linked to Environment (EAGLE) study as part of the Population Architecture using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE) study performed tests of association between 49 GWAS-identified lipid trait SNPs and gallstone disease in non-Hispanic whites (446 cases and 1,962 controls), non-Hispanic blacks (179 cases and 1,540 controls), and Mexican Americans (227 cases and 1,478 controls) ascertained for the population-based Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III).


At a liberal significance threshold of 0.05, five, four, and four SNP(s) were associated with disease risk in non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Mexican Americans, respectively. No one SNP was associated with gallstone disease risk in all three racial/ethnic groups. The most significant association was observed for ABCG5 rs6756629 in non-Hispanic whites [odds ratio (OR) = 1.89; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.44-2.49; p = 0.0001). ABCG5 rs6756629 is in strong linkage disequilibrium with rs11887534 (D19H), a variant previously associated with gallstone disease risk in populations of European-descent.


We replicated a previously associated variant for gallstone disease risk in non-Hispanic whites. Further discovery and fine-mapping efforts in diverse populations are needed to fully describe the genetic architecture of gallstone disease risk in humans.

Gallstones; NHANES III; PAGE; EAGLE; ABCG5; Genetic association