Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Vitamin D status–a complex trait influenced by environmental and genetic factors–is tightly associated with skin colour and ancestry. Yet very few studies have investigated the genetic underpinnings of vitamin D levels across diverse ancestries, and the ones that have, relied on small sample sizes, resulting in inconclusive results. Here, we conduct genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of 25 hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD)–the main circulating form of vitamin D–in 442,435 individuals from four broad genetically-determined ancestry groups represented in the UK Biobank: European (N = 421,867), South Asian (N = 9,983), African (N = 8,306) and East Asian (N = 2,279). We identify a new genetic determinant of 25OHD (rs146759773) in individuals of African ancestry, which was not detected in previous analysis of much larger European cohorts due to low minor allele frequency. We show genome-wide significant evidence of dominance effects in 25OHD that protect against vitamin D deficiency. Given that key events in the synthesis of 25OHD occur in the skin and are affected by pigmentation levels, we conduct GWAS of 25OHD stratified by skin colour and identify new associations. Lastly, we test the interaction between skin colour and variants associated with variance in 25OHD levels and identify two loci (rs10832254 and rs1352846) whose association with 25OHD differs in individuals of distinct complexions. Collectively, our results provide new insights into the complex relationship between 25OHD and skin colour and highlight the importance of diversity in genomic studies. Despite the much larger rates of vitamin D deficiency that we and others report for ancestry groups with dark skin (e.g., South Asian), our study highlights the importance of considering ancestral background and/or skin colour when assessing the implications of low vitamin D.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Genetics

Publication Date