DOI: 10.3390/genes15030357 ISSN: 2073-4425

Whole-Exome Sequencing (WES) Reveals Novel Sex-Specific Gene Variants in Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (MASH)

Jing Wei, Boyang Jason Wu, Sayed S. Daoud
  • Genetics (clinical)
  • Genetics

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH, also known as MASH) is a severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD, also known as MASLD). Emerging data indicate that the progression of the disease to MASH is higher in postmenopausal women and that genetic susceptibility increases the risk of MASH-related cirrhosis. This study aimed to investigate the association between genetic polymorphisms in MASH and sexual dimorphism. We applied whole-exome sequencing (WES) to identify gene variants in 8 age-adjusted matched pairs of livers from both male and female patients. Sequencing alignment, variant calling, and annotation were performed using standard methods. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coupled with Sanger sequencing and immunoblot analysis were used to validate specific gene variants. cBioPortal and Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) were used for actionable target analysis. We identified 148,881 gene variants, representing 57,121 and 50,150 variants in the female and male cohorts, respectively, of which 251 were highly significant and MASH sex-specific (p < 0.0286). Polymorphisms in CAPN14, SLC37A3, BAZ1A, SRP54, MYH11, ABCC1, and RNFT1 were highly expressed in male liver samples. In female samples, Polymorphisms in RGSL1, SLC17A2, HFE, NLRC5, ACTN4, SBF1, and ALPK2 were identified. A heterozygous variant 1151G>T located on 18q21.32 for ALPK2 (rs3809983) was validated by Sanger sequencing and expressed only in female samples. Immunoblot analysis confirmed that the protein level of β-catenin in female samples was 2-fold higher than normal, whereas ALPK2 expression was 0.5-fold lower than normal. No changes in the protein levels of either ALPK2 or β-catenin were observed in male samples. Our study suggests that the perturbation of canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling observed in postmenopausal women with MASH could be the result of polymorphisms in ALPK2.

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