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Genetics: Correcting for genetic associations between alcohol and disease

Nature Communications

January 13, 2021

Genetic studies on self-reported traits such as alcohol consumption may be biased by misreporting and changes in behaviour, reports a study in Nature Communications this week. These findings could help to explain conflicting reports about the correlation between alcohol consumption and certain diseases.

Increased alcohol consumption has long been believed to increase the risk of many different diseases. However, recent studies have found that the genetic basis for alcohol consumption is negatively correlated with certain diseases, suggesting a possible protective effect of alcohol against disease. One possible explanation for this is that patients with a disease may change their alcohol consumption upon diagnosis or misreport their alcohol consumption in a survey.

Jian Yang and colleagues used data from 455,607 individuals in the UK Biobank to investigate whether misreporting and changes in behaviour can bias the results of genetic studies on alcohol consumption. Without correcting for misreporting or changes in behaviour, they found negative genetic correlations between alcohol consumption and type-2 diabetes, hypertensive disease and iron deficient anaemias. After correcting for misreporting and behavioural changes, the negative correlations disappeared and they found positive correlations with eight different conditions, including cardiovascular disease and total disease count.

The results of this study serve to caution researchers about potential biases in genetic studies of behavioural traits and provide a method to correct for them. However, the authors note that this bias does not necessarily apply to all populations or behavioural traits.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-20237-6

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