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Temporal relationship between hepatic steatosis and blood pressure elevation and the mediation effect in the development of cardiovascular disease.

The temporal relationship between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and hypertension remains highly controversial, with ongoing debates on whether NAFLD induces hypertension or vice versa. We employed cross-lagged panel models to investigate the temporal relationship between hepatic steatosis (assessed by Fatty Liver Index [FLI] in the main analysis, and by Proton Density Fat Fraction [PDFF] in the validation study) and blood pressure (systolic and diastolic blood pressure [SBP/ DBP]). Subsequently, we employed causal mediation models to explore the mediation effect in CVD development, including ischemic heart disease and stroke. The main analysis incorporated repeated measurement data of 5,047 participants from the China Multi-Ethnic Cohort (CMEC) and 5,685 participants from the UK Biobank (UKB). In both cohorts, the path coefficients from FLI to blood pressure were significant and greater than the path from blood pressure to FLI, with βFLI→SBP  = 0.081, P < 0.001 versus βSBP→FLI  = 0.020, P = 0.031; βFLI→DBP  = 0.082, P < 0.001 versus βDBP→FLI  = -0.006, P = 0.480 for CEMC, and βFLI→SBP  = 0.057, P < 0.001 versus βSBP→FLI  = -0.001, P = 0.727; βFLI→DBP  = 0.061, P < 0.001, versus βDBP→FLI  = -0.006, P = 0.263 for UKB. The validation study with 962 UKB participants using PDFF consistently supported these findings. In the mediation analyses encompassing 11,108 UKB participants, SBP and DBP mediated 12.2% and 5.2% of the hepatic steatosis-CVD association, respectively. The proportions were lower for ischemic heart disease (SBP: 6.1%, DBP: non-statistically significant -6.8%), and relatively stronger for stroke (SBP: 19.4%, DBP: 26.1%). In conclusion, hepatic steatosis more strongly contributes to elevated blood pressure than vice versa. Blood pressure elevation positively mediates the hepatic steatosis-CVD association, particularly in stroke compared to ischemic heart disease.

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