Genome-wide association study for circulating FGF21 in patients with alcohol use disorder: Molecular links between the SNHG16 locus and catecholamine metabolism

Ming Fen Ho, Cheng Zhang, Irene Moon, Lixuan Wei, Brandon Coombes, Joanna Biernacka, Michelle Skime, Doo Sup Choi, Mark Frye, Kristen Schmidt, Kate Gliske, Jacqueline Braughton, Quyen Ngo, Cedric Skillon, Marvin Seppala, Tyler Oesterle, Victor Karpyak, Hu Li, Richard Weinshilboum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Alcohol consumption can increase circulating levels of fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21). The effects of FGF21 in the central nervous system are associated with the regulation of catecholamines, neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in reward pathways. This study aims to identify genetic variants associated with FGF21 levels and evaluate their functional role in alcohol use disorder (AUD). Methods: We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) using DNA samples from 442 AUD subjects recruited from the Mayo Clinic Center for the Individualized Treatment of Alcoholism Study. Plasma FGF21 levels were measured using Olink proximity extension immunoassays. Alcohol consumption at time of entry into the study was measured using the self-reported timeline followback method. Functional genomic studies were performed using HepG2 cells and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived brain organoids. Results: Plasma FGF21 levels were positively correlated with recent alcohol consumption and gamma-glutamyl transferase levels, a commonly used marker for heavy alcohol use. One variant, rs9914222, located 5’ of SNHG16 on chromosome 17 was associated with plasma FGF21 levels (p = 4.60E-09). This variant was also associated with AUD risk (β: −3.23; p:0.0004). The rs9914222 SNP is an eQTL for SNHG16 in several brain regions, i.e., the variant genotype was associated with decreased expression of SNHG16. The variant genotype for the rs9914222 SNP was also associated with higher plasma FGF21 levels. Knockdown of SNHG16 in HepG2 cells resulted in increased FGF21 concentrations and decreased expression and enzyme activity for COMT, an enzyme that plays a key role in catecholamine metabolism. Finally, we demonstrated that ethanol significantly induced FGF21, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine concentrations in iPSC-derived brain organoids. Conclusions: GWAS for FGF21 revealed a SNHG16 genetic variant associated with FGF21 levels which are associated with recent alcohol consumption. Our data suggest that SNHG16 can regulate FGF21 concentrations and decrease COMT expression and enzyme activity which, in turn, have implications for the regulation of catecholamines. (The

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101534
JournalMolecular Metabolism
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Catecholamine metabolism
  • FGF21
  • GWAS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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