BACKGROUND: Although it is known that variation in the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) gene family influences the East Asian alcohol flushing response, knowledge about other genetic variants that affect flushing symptoms is limited. METHODS: We performed a genome-wide association study meta-analysis and heritability analysis of alcohol flushing in 15,105 males of East Asian ancestry (Koreans and Chinese) to identify genetic associations with alcohol flushing. We also evaluated whether self-reported flushing can be used as an instrumental variable for alcohol intake. RESULTS: We identified variants in the region of ALDH2 strongly associated with alcohol flushing, replicating previous studies conducted in East Asian populations. Additionally, we identified variants in the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B (ADH1B) gene region associated with alcohol flushing. Several novel variants were identified after adjustment for the lead variants (ALDH2-rs671 and ADH1B-rs1229984), which need to be confirmed in larger studies. The estimated SNP-heritability on the liability scale was 13% (S.E. = 4%) for flushing, but the heritability estimate decreased to 6% (S.E. = 4%) when the effects of the lead variants were controlled for. Genetic instrumentation of higher alcohol intake using these variants recapitulated known associations of alcohol intake with hypertension. Using self-reported alcohol flushing as an instrument gave a similar association pattern of higher alcohol intake and cardiovascular disease-related traits (e.g. stroke). CONCLUSION: This study confirms that ALDH2-rs671 and ADH1B-rs1229984 are associated with alcohol flushing in East Asian populations. Our findings also suggest that self-reported alcohol flushing can be used as an instrumental variable in future studies of alcohol consumption.
ADH1B, ALDH2, Alcohol, Alcohol flushing, GWAS, Heritability, Mendelian randomization