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1.  Effects of BMI, Fat Mass, and Lean Mass on Asthma in Childhood: A Mendelian Randomization Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001669.
In this study, Granell and colleagues used Mendelian randomization to investigate causal effects of BMI, fat mass, and lean mass on current asthma at age 7½ years in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and found that higher BMI increases the risk of asthma in mid-childhood.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Observational studies have reported associations between body mass index (BMI) and asthma, but confounding and reverse causality remain plausible explanations. We aim to investigate evidence for a causal effect of BMI on asthma using a Mendelian randomization approach.
Methods and Findings
We used Mendelian randomization to investigate causal effects of BMI, fat mass, and lean mass on current asthma at age 7½ y in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). A weighted allele score based on 32 independent BMI-related single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) was derived from external data, and associations with BMI, fat mass, lean mass, and asthma were estimated. We derived instrumental variable (IV) estimates of causal risk ratios (RRs). 4,835 children had available data on BMI-associated SNPs, asthma, and BMI. The weighted allele score was strongly associated with BMI, fat mass, and lean mass (all p-values<0.001) and with childhood asthma (RR 2.56, 95% CI 1.38–4.76 per unit score, p = 0.003). The estimated causal RR for the effect of BMI on asthma was 1.55 (95% CI 1.16–2.07) per kg/m2, p = 0.003. This effect appeared stronger for non-atopic (1.90, 95% CI 1.19–3.03) than for atopic asthma (1.37, 95% CI 0.89–2.11) though there was little evidence of heterogeneity (p = 0.31). The estimated causal RRs for the effects of fat mass and lean mass on asthma were 1.41 (95% CI 1.11–1.79) per 0.5 kg and 2.25 (95% CI 1.23–4.11) per kg, respectively. The possibility of genetic pleiotropy could not be discounted completely; however, additional IV analyses using FTO variant rs1558902 and the other BMI-related SNPs separately provided similar causal effects with wider confidence intervals. Loss of follow-up was unlikely to bias the estimated effects.
Higher BMI increases the risk of asthma in mid-childhood. Higher BMI may have contributed to the increase in asthma risk toward the end of the 20th century.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
The global burden of asthma, a chronic (long-term) condition caused by inflammation of the airways (the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs), has been rising steadily over the past few decades. It is estimated that, nowadays, 200–300 million adults and children worldwide are affected by asthma. Although asthma can develop at any age, it is often diagnosed in childhood—asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur or to irritants such as cigarette smoke, becoming narrower so that less air can enter the lungs. Exercise, cold air, and infections can also trigger asthma attacks, which can be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
Why Was This Study Done?
We cannot halt the ongoing rise in global asthma rates without understanding the causes of asthma. Some experts think obesity may be one cause of asthma. Obesity, like asthma, is increasingly common, and observational studies (investigations that ask whether individuals exposed to a suspected risk factor for a condition develop that condition more often than unexposed individuals) in children have reported that body mass index (BMI, an indicator of body fat calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared) is positively associated with asthma. Observational studies cannot prove that obesity causes asthma because of “confounding.” Overweight children with asthma may share another unknown characteristic (confounder) that actually causes both obesity and asthma. Moreover, children with asthma may be less active than unaffected children, so they become overweight (reverse causality). Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to assess whether BMI has a causal effect on asthma. In Mendelian randomization, causality is inferred from associations between genetic variants that mimic the effect of a modifiable risk factor and the outcome of interest. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. So, if a higher BMI leads to asthma, genetic variants associated with increased BMI should be associated with an increased risk of asthma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers investigated causal effects of BMI, fat mass, and lean mass on current asthma at age 7½ years in 4,835 children enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC, a long-term health project that started in 1991). They calculated an allele score for each child based on 32 BMI-related genetic variants, and estimated associations between this score and BMI, fat mass and lean mass (both measured using a special type of X-ray scanner; in children BMI is not a good indicator of “fatness”), and asthma. They report that the allele score was strongly associated with BMI, fat mass, and lean mass, and with childhood asthma. The estimated causal relative risk (risk ratio) for the effect of BMI on asthma was 1.55 per kg/m2. That is, the relative risk of asthma increased by 55% for every extra unit of BMI. The estimated causal relative risks for the effects of fat mass and lean mass on asthma were 1.41 per 0.5 kg and 2.25 per kg, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that a higher BMI increases the risk of asthma in mid-childhood and that global increases in BMI toward the end of the 20th century may have contributed to the global increase in asthma that occurred at the same time. It is possible that the observed association between BMI and asthma reported in this study is underpinned by “genetic pleiotropy” (a potential limitation of all Mendelian randomization analyses). That is, some of the genetic variants included in the BMI allele score could conceivably also increase the risk of asthma. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that public health interventions designed to reduce obesity may also help to limit the global rise in asthma.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on asthma and on all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information on asthma and on obesity (in several languages)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about asthma, about asthma in children, and about obesity (including real stories)
The Global Asthma Report 2011 is available
The Global Initiative for Asthma released its updated Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention on World Asthma Day 2014
Information about the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is available
MedlinePlus provides links to further information on obesity in children, on asthma, and on asthma in children (in English and Spanish
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC4077660  PMID: 24983943
2.  Association of Adenotonsillectomy with Asthma Outcomes in Children: A Longitudinal Database Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(11):e1001753.
Rakesh Bhattacharjee and colleagues use data from a US private health insurance database to compare asthma severity measures in children one year before and one year after they underwent adenotonsillectomy with asthma measures in those who did not undergo adenotonsillectomy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Childhood asthma and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), both disorders of airway inflammation, were associated in recent observational studies. Although childhood OSA is effectively treated by adenotonsillectomy (AT), it remains unclear whether AT also improves childhood asthma. We hypothesized that AT, the first line of therapy for childhood OSA, would be associated with improved asthma outcomes and would reduce the usage of asthma therapies in children.
Methods and Findings
Using the 2003–2010 MarketScan database, we identified 13,506 children with asthma in the United States who underwent AT. Asthma outcomes during 1 y preceding AT were compared to those during 1 y following AT. In addition, 27,012 age-, sex-, and geographically matched children with asthma without AT were included to examine asthma outcomes among children without known adenotonsillar tissue morbidity. Primary outcomes included the occurrence of a diagnostic code for acute asthma exacerbation (AAE) or acute status asthmaticus (ASA). Secondary outcomes included temporal changes in asthma medication prescriptions, the frequency of asthma-related emergency room visits (ARERs), and asthma-related hospitalizations (ARHs). Comparing the year following AT to the year prior, AT was associated with significant reductions in AAE (30.2%; 95% CI: 25.6%–34.3%; p<0.0001), ASA (37.9%; 95% CI: 29.2%–45.6%; p<0.0001), ARERs (25.6%; 95% CI: 16.9%–33.3%; p<0.0001), and ARHs (35.8%; 95% CI: 19.6%–48.7%; p = 0.02). Moreover, AT was associated with significant reductions in most asthma prescription refills, including bronchodilators (16.7%; 95% CI: 16.1%–17.3%; p<0.001), inhaled corticosteroids (21.5%; 95% CI: 20.7%–22.3%; p<0.001), leukotriene receptor antagonists (13.4%; 95% CI: 12.9%–14.0%; p<0.001), and systemic corticosteroids (23.7%; 95% CI: 20.9%–26.5%; p<0.001). In contrast, there were no significant reductions in these outcomes in children with asthma who did not undergo AT over an overlapping follow-up period. Limitations of the MarketScan database include lack of information on race and obesity status. Also, the MarketScan database does not include information on children with public health insurance (i.e., Medicaid) or uninsured children.
In a very large sample of privately insured children, AT was associated with significant improvements in several asthma outcomes. Contingent on validation through prospectively designed clinical trials, this study supports the premise that detection and treatment of adenotonsillar tissue morbidity may serve as an important strategy for improving asthma control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
The global burden of asthma has been rising steadily over the past few decades. Nowadays, about 200–300 million adults and children worldwide are affected by asthma, a chronic condition caused by inflammation of the airways (the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs). Although asthma can develop at any age, it is often diagnosed in childhood—asthma is one of the commonest chronic diseases in children. In the US, for example, asthma affects around 7.1 million children under the age of 18 years and is the third leading cause of hospitalization of children under the age of 15 years. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur or to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Exercise, cold air, and infections can trigger asthma attacks, which can be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
Why Was This Study Done?
Recent studies have found an association between severe childhood asthma and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In OSA, airway inflammation promotes hypertrophy (excess growth) of the adenoids and the tonsils, immune system tissues in the upper airway. During sleep, the presence of hypertrophic adenotonsillar tissues predisposes the walls of the throat to collapse, which results in apnea—a brief interruption in breathing. People with OSA often snore loudly and frequently wake from deep sleep as they struggle to breathe. Childhood OSA, which affects 2%–3% of children, can be effectively treated by removal of the adenoids and tonsils (adenotonsillectomy). Given the association between childhood OSA and severe asthma and given the involvement of airway inflammation in both conditions, might adenotonsillectomy also improve childhood asthma? Here, the researchers analyze data from the MarketScan database, a large database of US patients with private health insurance, to investigate whether adenotonsillectomy is associated with improvements in asthma outcomes and with reductions in the use of asthma therapies in children.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the database to identify 13,506 children with asthma who had undergone adenotonsillectomy and to obtain information about asthma outcomes among these children for the year before and the year after the operation. Because asthma severity tends to decrease with age, the researchers also used the database to identify 27,012 age-, sex-, and geographically matched children with asthma who did not have the operation so that they could examine asthma outcomes over an equivalent two-year period in the absence of complications related to adenotonsillar hypertrophy. Comparing the year after adenotonsillectomy with the year before the operation, adenotonsillectomy was associated with a 30% reduction in acute asthma exacerbations, a 37.9% reduction in acute status asthmaticus (an asthma attack that is unresponsive to the drugs usually used to treat attacks), a 25.6% reduction in asthma-related emergency room visits, and a 35.8% reduction in asthma-related hospitalizations. By contrast, among the control children, there was only a 2% reduction in acute asthma exacerbations and only a 7% reduction in acute status asthmaticus over an equivalent two-year period. Adenotonsillectomy was also associated with significant reductions (changes unlikely to have occurred by chance) in prescription refills for most types of drugs used to treat asthma, whereas there were no significant reductions in prescription refills among children with asthma who had not undergone adenotonsillectomy. The study was limited by the lack of measures of race and obesity, which are both associated with severity of asthma.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in a large sample of privately insured children in the US, adenotonsillectomy was associated with significant improvements in several asthma outcomes. These results do not show, however, that adenotonsillectomy caused a reduction in the severity of childhood asthma. It could be that the children who underwent adenotonsillectomy (but not those who did not have the operation) shared another unknown factor that led to improvements in their asthma over time. To prove a causal link, it will be necessary to undertake a randomized controlled trial in which the outcomes of groups of children with asthma who are chosen at random to undergo or not undergo adenotonsillectomy are compared. However, with the proviso that there are some risks associated with adenotonsillectomy, these findings suggest that the detection and treatment of adenotonsillar hypertrophy may help to improve asthma control in children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on asthma, including videos, games, and links to other resources for children with asthma
The American Lung Association provides detailed information about asthma and a fact sheet on asthma in children; it also has information about obstructive sleep apnea
The National Sleep Foundation provides information on snoring and obstructive sleep apnea in children
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including some personal stories) about asthma, about asthma in children, and about obstructive sleep apnea
The “Global Asthma Report 2014” will be available in October 2014
MedlinePlus provides links to further information on asthma, on asthma in children, on sleep apnea, and on tonsils and adenoids (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC4219664  PMID: 25369282
3.  Comparison of Temporal Transcriptomic Profiles from Immature Lungs of Two Rat Strains Reveals a Viral Response Signature Associated with Chronic Lung Dysfunction 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e112997.
Early life respiratory viral infections and atopic characteristics are significant risk factors for the development of childhood asthma. It is hypothesized that repeated respiratory viral infections might induce structural remodeling by interfering with the normal process of lung maturation; however, the specific molecular processes that underlie these pathological changes are not understood. To investigate the molecular basis for these changes, we used an established Sendai virus infection model in weanling rats to compare the post-infection transcriptomes of an atopic asthma susceptible strain, Brown Norway, and a non-atopic asthma resistant strain, Fischer 344. Specific to this weanling infection model and not described in adult infection models, Sendai virus in the susceptible, but not the resistant strain, results in morphological abnormalities in distal airways that persist into adulthood. Gene expression data from infected and control lungs across five time points indicated that specific features of the immune response following viral infection were heightened and prolonged in lungs from Brown Norway rats compared with Fischer 344 rats. These features included an increase in macrophage cell number and related gene expression, which then transitioned to an increase in mast cell number and related gene expression. In contrast, infected Fischer F344 lungs exhibited more efficient restoration of the airway epithelial morphology, with transient appearance of basal cell pods near distal airways. Together, these findings indicate that the pronounced macrophage and mast cell responses and abnormal re-epithelialization precede the structural defects that developed and persisted in Brown Norway, but not Fischer 344 lungs.
PMCID: PMC4249857  PMID: 25437859
4.  Preterm Birth and Childhood Wheezing Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001596.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Jasper Been and colleagues investigate the association between preterm birth and the development of wheezing disorders in childhood.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Accumulating evidence implicates early life factors in the aetiology of non-communicable diseases, including asthma/wheezing disorders. We undertook a systematic review investigating risks of asthma/wheezing disorders in children born preterm, including the increasing numbers who, as a result of advances in neonatal care, now survive very preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
Two reviewers independently searched seven online databases for contemporaneous (1 January 1995–23 September 2013) epidemiological studies investigating the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders. Additional studies were identified through reference and citation searches, and contacting international experts. Quality appraisal was undertaken using the Effective Public Health Practice Project instrument. We pooled unadjusted and adjusted effect estimates using random-effects meta-analysis, investigated “dose–response” associations, and undertook subgroup, sensitivity, and meta-regression analyses to assess the robustness of associations.
We identified 42 eligible studies from six continents. Twelve were excluded for population overlap, leaving 30 unique studies involving 1,543,639 children. Preterm birth was associated with an increased risk of wheezing disorders in unadjusted (13.7% versus 8.3%; odds ratio [OR] 1.71, 95% CI 1.57–1.87; 26 studies including 1,500,916 children) and adjusted analyses (OR 1.46, 95% CI 1.29–1.65; 17 studies including 874,710 children). The risk was particularly high among children born very preterm (<32 wk gestation; unadjusted: OR 3.00, 95% CI 2.61–3.44; adjusted: OR 2.81, 95% CI 2.55–3.12). Findings were most pronounced for studies with low risk of bias and were consistent across sensitivity analyses. The estimated population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was ≥3.1%.
Key limitations related to the paucity of data from low- and middle-income countries, and risk of residual confounding.
There is compelling evidence that preterm birth—particularly very preterm birth—increases the risk of asthma. Given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, research now needs to focus on understanding underlying mechanisms, and then to translate these insights into the development of preventive interventions.
Review Registration
PROSPERO CRD42013004965
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks, but worldwide, more than 11% of babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother's womb). Preterm birth is a major cause of infant death—more than 1 million babies die annually from preterm birth complications—and the number of preterm births is increasing globally. Multiple pregnancies, infections, and chronic (long-term) maternal conditions such as diabetes can all cause premature birth, but the cause of many preterm births is unknown. The most obvious immediate complication that is associated with preterm birth is respiratory distress syndrome. This breathing problem, which is more common in early preterm babies than in near-term babies, occurs because the lungs of premature babies are structurally immature and lack pulmonary surfactant, a unique mixture of lipids and proteins that coats the inner lining of the lungs and helps to prevent the collapse of the small air sacs in the lungs that absorb oxygen from the air. Consequently, preterm babies often need help with their breathing and oxygen supplementation.
Why Was This Study Done?
Improvements in the management of prematurity mean that more preterm babies survive today than in the past. However, accumulating evidence suggests that early life events are involved in the subsequent development of non-communicable diseases (non-infectious chronic diseases). Given the increasing burden of preterm birth, a better understanding of the long-term effects of preterm birth is essential. Here, the researchers investigate the risks of asthma and wheezing disorders in children who are born preterm by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and a meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies). Asthma is a chronic condition that is caused by inflammation of the airways. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur and to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Exercise, cold air, and infections can also trigger asthma attacks, which can sometimes be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing), coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 30 studies undertaken between 1995 and the present (a time span chosen to allow for recent changes in the management of prematurity) that investigated the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders in more than 1.5 million children. Across the studies, 13.7% of preterm babies developed asthma/wheezing disorders during childhood, compared to only 8.3% of babies born at term. Thus, the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.71 times higher than the risk of term babies developing these conditions (an unadjusted odds ratio [OR] of 1.71). In analyses that allowed for confounding factors—other factors that affect the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders such as maternal smoking—the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.46 times higher than that of babies born at term (an adjusted OR of 1.46). Notably, compared to children born at term, children born very early (before 32 weeks of gestation) had about three times the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders in unadjusted and adjusted analyses. Finally, the population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was more than 3.1%. That is, if no preterm births had occurred, there would have been more than a 3.1% reduction in childhood wheezing disorders.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings strongly suggest that preterm birth increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood and that the risk of asthma/wheezing disorders increases as the degree of prematurity increases. The accuracy of these findings may be affected, however, by residual confounding. That is, preterm children may share other, unknown characteristics that increase their risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders. Moreover, the generalizability of these findings is limited by the lack of data from low- and middle-income countries. However, given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, these findings highlight the need to undertake research into the mechanisms underlying the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders and the need to develop appropriate preventative and therapeutic measures.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
Nemours, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information (in English and Spanish) on premature babies and on asthma (including personal stories)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about premature labor and birth and a real story about having a preterm baby; it provides information about asthma in children (including real stories)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on preterm birth, asthma, asthma in children, and wheezing (in English and Spanish); MedlinePlus provides links to further information on premature birth, asthma, and asthma in children (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC3904844  PMID: 24492409
5.  Genetics of Asthma Susceptibility and Severity 
Clinics in chest medicine  2012;33(3):431-443.
The interaction of genes and environmental exposures influences the development of asthma and determines asthma severity. This review focuses on recent developments in genetic studies of asthma onset and progression. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are currently the most effective approach to study genetics of complex diseases. There have been two large meta-analyses of asthma susceptibility, GABRIEL and EVE, which identified the same four chromosomal regions, many of which had also been identified in previous GWAS: loci in the ORMDL3 region of 17q21, IL1RL/IL18R genes on chromosome 2q, the TSLP gene region on 5q22, and IL33 on chromosome 9p24. These regions were associated with asthma in individuals of different ethnic backgrounds. EVE also identified a novel asthma susceptibility locus, PYHIN1, in individuals of African descent. Genome-wide screens for asthma susceptibility in Asian adults and children both identified genetic variants in the major histocompatiblity complex gene region (HLA region) on chromosome 6p21 as highly associated with asthma risk. This locus was one of the first candidate genes identified for asthma and has been a significant predictor of asthma risk in several GWAS.
There is also a need to understand asthma disease heterogeneity as different phenotypes may reflect several pathogenic pathways. Genes that are associated with phenotypes including lung function, biomarker levels and asthma therapeutic responses provide insight into mechanisms of asthma severity progression. For example, the HHIP gene is a significant predictor of pulmonary function changes in asthma and in the normal population. A joint model of risk variants in lung function genes were highly associated with lower FEV1 and increased asthma severity criteria. In addition, a genome-wide screen to discover pharmacogenetic associations related to response to inhaled glucocorticoids identified two correlated SNPs in the GLCCI1 gene that confer a significant lung function response to this asthma therapy.
Future genetic studies for asthma susceptibility and severity will incorporate exome or whole-genome sequencing to identify common and rare genetic variants. Using these variants identified in comprehensively phenotyped asthmatics will lead to the development of personalized therapy in individuals with asthma.
PMCID: PMC3431509  PMID: 22929093
Asthma; genetics; susceptibility; severity; personalized medicine; therapy; lung function
6.  Early diagnosis of asthma in young children by using non-invasive biomarkers of airway inflammation and early lung function measurements: study protocol of a case-control study 
BMC Public Health  2009;9:210.
Asthma is the most common chronic disease in childhood, characterized by chronic airway inflammation. There are problems with the diagnosis of asthma in young children since the majority of the children with recurrent asthma-like symptoms is symptom free at 6 years, and does not have asthma. With the conventional diagnostic tools it is not possible to differentiate between preschool children with transient symptoms and children with asthma. The analysis of biomarkers of airway inflammation in exhaled breath is a non-invasive and promising technique to diagnose asthma and monitor inflammation in young children. Moreover, relatively new lung function tests (airway resistance using the interrupter technique) have become available for young children. The primary objective of the ADEM study (Asthma DEtection and Monitoring study), is to develop a non-invasive instrument for an early asthma diagnosis in young children, using exhaled inflammatory markers and early lung function measurements. In addition, aetiological factors, including gene polymorphisms and gene expression profiles, in relation to the development of asthma are studied.
A prospective case-control study is started in 200 children with recurrent respiratory symptoms and 50 control subjects without respiratory symptoms. At 6 years, a definite diagnosis of asthma is made (primary outcome measure) on basis of lung function assessments and current respiratory symptoms ('golden standard'). From inclusion until the definite asthma diagnosis, repeated measurements of lung function tests and inflammatory markers in exhaled breath (condensate), blood and faeces are performed. The study is registered and ethically approved.
This article describes the study protocol of the ADEM study. The new diagnostic techniques applied in this study could make an early diagnosis of asthma possible. An early and reliable asthma diagnosis at 2–3 years will have consequences for the management of the large group of young children with asthma-like symptoms. It will avoid both over-treatment of children with transient wheeze and under-treatment of children with asthma. This might have a beneficial influence on the prognosis of asthma in these young children. Besides, insight into the pathophysiology and aetiology of asthma will be obtained.
This study is registered by (NCT00422747).
PMCID: PMC2711088  PMID: 19563637
7.  Genome-Wide Association Study Implicates Chromosome 9q21.31 as a Susceptibility Locus for Asthma in Mexican Children 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(8):e1000623.
Many candidate genes have been studied for asthma, but replication has varied. Novel candidate genes have been identified for various complex diseases using genome-wide association studies (GWASs). We conducted a GWAS in 492 Mexican children with asthma, predominantly atopic by skin prick test, and their parents using the Illumina HumanHap 550 K BeadChip to identify novel genetic variation for childhood asthma. The 520,767 autosomal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) passing quality control were tested for association with childhood asthma using log-linear regression with a log-additive risk model. Eleven of the most significantly associated GWAS SNPs were tested for replication in an independent study of 177 Mexican case–parent trios with childhood-onset asthma and atopy using log-linear analysis. The chromosome 9q21.31 SNP rs2378383 (p = 7.10×10−6 in the GWAS), located upstream of transducin-like enhancer of split 4 (TLE4), gave a p-value of 0.03 and the same direction and magnitude of association in the replication study (combined p = 6.79×10−7). Ancestry analysis on chromosome 9q supported an inverse association between the rs2378383 minor allele (G) and childhood asthma. This work identifies chromosome 9q21.31 as a novel susceptibility locus for childhood asthma in Mexicans. Further, analysis of genome-wide expression data in 51 human tissues from the Novartis Research Foundation showed that median GWAS significance levels for SNPs in genes expressed in the lung differed most significantly from genes not expressed in the lung when compared to 50 other tissues, supporting the biological plausibility of our overall GWAS findings and the multigenic etiology of childhood asthma.
Author Summary
Asthma is a leading chronic childhood disease with a presumed strong genetic component, but no genes have been definitely shown to influence asthma development. Few genetic studies of asthma have included Hispanic populations. Here, we conducted a genome-wide association study of asthma in 492 Mexican children with asthma, predominantly atopic by skin prick test, and their parents to identify novel genetic variation for childhood asthma. We implicated several polymorphisms in or near TLE4 on chromosome 9q21.31 (a novel candidate region for childhood asthma) and replicated one polymorphism in an independent study of childhood-onset asthmatics with atopy and their parents of Mexican ethnicity. Hispanics have differing proportions of Native American, European, and African ancestries, and we found less Native American ancestry than expected at chromosome 9q21.31. This suggests that chromosome 9q21.31 may underlie ethnic differences in childhood asthma and that future replication would be most effective in populations with Native American ancestry. Analysis of publicly available genome-wide expression data revealed that association signals in genes expressed in the lung differed most significantly from genes not expressed in the lung when compared to 50 other tissues, supporting the biological plausibility of the overall GWAS findings and the multigenic etiology of asthma.
PMCID: PMC2722731  PMID: 19714205
8.  Multiple Roles and Interactions of Tbx4 and Tbx5 in Development of the Respiratory System 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(8):e1002866.
Normal development of the respiratory system is essential for survival and is regulated by multiple genes and signaling pathways. Both Tbx4 and Tbx5 are expressed throughout the mesenchyme of the developing lung and trachea; and, although multiple genes are known to be required in the epithelium, only Fgfs have been well studied in the mesenchyme. In this study, we investigated the roles of Tbx4 and Tbx5 in lung and trachea development using conditional mutant alleles and two different Cre recombinase transgenic lines. Loss of Tbx5 leads to a unilateral loss of lung bud specification and absence of tracheal specification in organ culture. Mutants deficient in Tbx4 and Tbx5 show severely reduced lung branching at mid-gestation. Concordant with this defect, the expression of mesenchymal markers Wnt2 and Fgf10, as well as Fgf10 target genes Bmp4 and Spry2, in the epithelium is downregulated. Lung branching undergoes arrest ex vivo when Tbx4 and Tbx5 are both completely lacking. Lung-specific Tbx4 heterozygous;Tbx5 conditional null mice die soon after birth due to respiratory distress. These pups have small lungs and show severe disruptions in tracheal/bronchial cartilage rings. Sox9, a master regulator of cartilage formation, is expressed in the trachea; but mesenchymal cells fail to condense and consequently do not develop cartilage normally at birth. Tbx4;Tbx5 double heterozygous mutants show decreased lung branching and fewer tracheal cartilage rings, suggesting a genetic interaction. Finally, we show that Tbx4 and Tbx5 interact with Fgf10 during the process of lung growth and branching but not during tracheal/bronchial cartilage development.
Author Summary
Defective development of the mammalian respiratory system can lead to tracheal, bronchial, or pulmonary malformations causing severe consequences at birth or during postnatal life. Studies using mouse genetics have begun to reveal complex regulatory mechanisms that guide the development of the respiratory system, but understanding how disruption of these mechanisms leads to malformations is far from complete. In this study, we analyze the role of two T-box transcription factors, Tbx4 and Tbx5, in three processes essential to the development of the respiratory system: the specification of the lung and trachea primordia, the growth and branching of the airways to form the lung, and formation of cartilage rings of the trachea and bronchi. In the absence of Tbx5, only one lung is specified, and no trachea. Both Tbx4 and Tbx5 regulate the process of lung branching by controlling the expression of the secreted growth factor Fgf10 and activation of Fgf10 signaling. In the trachea, both Tbx4 and Tbx5 are important for condensation of cells to form cartilage rings, although this is regulated by a distinct pathway that does not involve Fgf10.
PMCID: PMC3410851  PMID: 22876201
9.  Prenatal Secondhand Cigarette Smoke Promotes Th2 polarization and impairs goblet cell differentiation and airway mucus formation 
Parental, particularly maternal, smoking increases the risk of childhood allergic asthma and infection. Similarly, in a murine allergic asthma model, prenatal plus early postnatal exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke (SS) exacerbates airway hyperreactivity and Th2 responses in the lung. However, the mechanism and contribution of prenatal versus early postnatal SS exposure on allergic asthma remains unresolved. To identify the effects of prenatal and/or early postnatal SS on allergic asthma, BALB/c dams and their offspring were exposed gestationally and/or 8–10 weeks post-birth to filtered air or SS. Prenatal, but not postnatal SS strongly increased methacholine and allergen (Aspergillus)-induced airway resistance, Th2-cytokines levels and atopy, and activated the Th2 polarizing pathway GATA3/Lck/ERK1/2/STAT6. Either prenatal and/or early postnatal SS downregulated the Th1-specific transcription factor T-bet and, surprisingly, in spite of high levels of IL-4/IL-13, dramatically blocked the allergen-induced mucous cell metaplasia, airway mucus formation, and the expression of mucus-related genes/proteins: Muc5ac, GABAA-receptors, and SPDEF. Given that SS/nicotine exposure of normal adult mice promotes mucus formation, the results suggest that fetal and neonatal lung are highly sensitive to cigarette smoke. Thus, while the gestational SS promotes Th2 polarization/allergic asthma, it may also impair and/or delay the development of fetal and neonatal lung, affecting mucociliary clearance and Th1 responses. Together, this may explain the increased susceptibility of children from smoking parents to allergic asthma and childhood respiratory infections.
PMCID: PMC3197944  PMID: 21930963
Environmental (secondhand) tobacco smoke; airways hyperreactivity; allergic asthma; Th2 polarization; airway mucus
10.  Perinatal nicotine exposure induces asthma in second generation offspring 
BMC Medicine  2012;10:129.
By altering specific developmental signaling pathways that are necessary for fetal lung development, perinatal nicotine exposure affects lung growth and differentiation, resulting in the offsprings' predisposition to childhood asthma; peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) agonists can inhibit this effect. However, whether the perinatal nicotine-induced asthma risk is restricted to nicotine-exposed offspring only; whether it can be transmitted to the next generation; and whether PPARγ agonists would have any effect on this process are not known.
Time-mated Sprague Dawley rat dams received either placebo or nicotine (1 mg/kg, s.c.), once daily from day 6 of gestation to postnatal day (PND) 21. Following delivery, at PND21, generation 1 (F1) pups were either subjected to pulmonary function tests, or killed to obtain their lungs, tracheas, and gonads to determine the relevant protein markers (mesenchymal contractile proteins), global DNA methylation, histone 3 and 4 acetylation, and for tracheal tension studies. Some F1 animals were used as breeders to generate F2 pups, but without any exposure to nicotine in the F1 pregnancy. At PND21, F2 pups underwent studies similar to those performed on F1 pups.
Consistent with the asthma phenotype, nicotine affected lung function in both male and female F1 and F2 offspring (maximal 250% increase in total respiratory system resistance, and 84% maximal decrease in dynamic compliance following methacholine challenge; P < 0.01, nicotine versus control; P < 0.05, males versus females; and P > 0.05, F1 versus F2), but only affected tracheal constriction in males (51% maximal increase in tracheal constriction following acetylcholine challenge, P < 0.01, nicotine versus control; P < 0.0001, males versus females; P > 0.05, F1 versus F2); nicotine also increased the contractile protein content of whole lung (180% increase in fibronectin protein levels, P < 0.01, nicotine versus control, and P < 0.05, males versus females) and isolated lung fibroblasts (for example, 45% increase in fibronectin protein levels, P < 0.05, nicotine versus control), along with decreased PPARγ expression (30% decrease, P < 0.05, nicotine versus control), but only affected contractile proteins in the male trachea (P < 0.05, nicotine versus control, and P < 0.0001, males versus females). All of the nicotine-induced changes in the lung and gonad DNA methylation and histone 3 and 4 acetylation were normalized by the PPARγ agonist rosiglitazone except for the histone 4 acetylation in the lung.
Germline epigenetic marks imposed by exposure to nicotine during pregnancy can become permanently programmed and transferred through the germline to subsequent generations, a ground-breaking finding that shifts the current asthma paradigm, opening up many new avenues to explore.
PMCID: PMC3568737  PMID: 23106849
nicotine; lung; epigenetic; asthma; multigenerational; gender difference
11.  Expression analysis of asthma candidate genes during human and murine lung development 
Respiratory Research  2011;12(1):86.
Little is known about the role of most asthma susceptibility genes during human lung development. Genetic determinants for normal lung development are not only important early in life, but also for later lung function.
To investigate the role of expression patterns of well-defined asthma susceptibility genes during human and murine lung development. We hypothesized that genes influencing normal airways development would be over-represented by genes associated with asthma.
Asthma genes were first identified via comprehensive search of the current literature. Next, we analyzed their expression patterns in the developing human lung during the pseudoglandular (gestational age, 7-16 weeks) and canalicular (17-26 weeks) stages of development, and in the complete developing lung time series of 3 mouse strains: A/J, SW, C57BL6.
In total, 96 genes with association to asthma in at least two human populations were identified in the literature. Overall, there was no significant over-representation of the asthma genes among genes differentially expressed during lung development, although trends were seen in the human (Odds ratio, OR 1.22, confidence interval, CI 0.90-1.62) and C57BL6 mouse (OR 1.41, CI 0.92-2.11) data. However, differential expression of some asthma genes was consistent in both developing human and murine lung, e.g. NOD1, EDN1, CCL5, RORA and HLA-G. Among the asthma genes identified in genome wide association studies, ROBO1, RORA, HLA-DQB1, IL2RB and PDE10A were differentially expressed during human lung development.
Our data provide insight about the role of asthma susceptibility genes during lung development and suggest common mechanisms underlying lung morphogenesis and pathogenesis of respiratory diseases.
PMCID: PMC3141421  PMID: 21699702
Asthma; Development; Expression; Genetics; Lung
12.  Redox Control of Asthma: Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutic Opportunities 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2010;12(1):93-124.
An imbalance in reducing and oxidizing (redox) systems favoring a more oxidative environment is present in asthma and linked to the pathophysiology of the defining symptoms and signs including airflow limitation, hyper-reactivity, and airway remodeling. High levels of hydrogen peroxide, nitric oxide (•NO), and 15-F2t-isoprostane in exhaled breath, and excessive oxidative protein products in lung epithelial lining fluid, peripheral blood, and urine provide abundant evidence for pathologic oxidizing processes in asthma. Parallel studies document loss of reducing potential by nonenzymatic and enzymatic antioxidants. The essential first line antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutases (SOD) and catalase are reduced in asthma as compared to healthy individuals, with lowest levels in those patients with the most severe asthma. Loss of SOD and catalase activity is related to oxidative modifications of the enzymes, while other antioxidant gene polymorphisms are linked to susceptibility to develop asthma. Monitoring of exhaled •NO has entered clinical practice because it is useful to optimize asthma care, and a wide array of other biochemical oxidative and nitrative biomarkers are currently being evaluated for asthma monitoring and phenotyping. Novel therapeutic strategies that target correction of redox abnormalities show promise for the treatment of asthma. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 12, 93–124.
Redox Reactions Form the Basis for Aerobic Life
Redox Systems in the Lung
ROS and RNS production in the lung
Endogenous reactive oxygen species
Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)
Hydroxyl radical (OH)
Protein modifications by MPO and EPO
Reactive nitrogen species
Environmental exposures
Atmospheric ozone (O3) and particulate matter pollution
Cigarette smoke and environmental tobacco smoke
Oxidative processes in biology
Antioxidants in the lung
Nonenzymatic lung antioxidants
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
Enzymatic lung antioxidants
Superoxide dismutases (SOD)
Glutathione system
Thioredoxin system
Glutaredoxin system
The role of protein thiolation (Pr-SH); S-glutathionylation in redox signaling
Heme oxygenase
The Role of Redox in Asthma
Pathophysiology of asthma
Production of ROS in asthma
Inhalation of exogenous ROS or RNS: Contribution to asthma severity
Nitric oxide in the lungs: Relation to oxidative modifications
Redox imbalance in asthma
Oxidative stress
Antioxidant deficiency in asthma
SOD deficiency
Catalase inactivation
Glutathione systems in asthma
Redox-dependent transcriptional regulation
Transcription factors NF-κB and AP1
Redox-dependent activation of JAK/STAT pathway
Genetics of redox in asthma
Clinical Implications
Clinical monitoring of redox in asthma
Antioxidant therapeutic strategies
Redox-sensitive transcription factors
SOD therapies
Glutathione system
Dietary antioxidants
Conclusions and Future Directions
PMCID: PMC2824520  PMID: 19634987
13.  Ficolin-2 Defends against Virulent Mycobacteria Tuberculosis Infection In Vivo, and Its Insufficiency Is Associated with Infection in Humans 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73859.
Human ficolin-2 (ficolin-2/P35) is a lectin complement pathway activator that is present in normal human plasma and is associated with infectious diseases; however, little is known regarding the roles and mechanisms of ficolin-2 during Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection. Here, we describe our novel findings that the ficolin-2 serum levels of 107 pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) patients were much lower compared with 107 healthy controls. In vitro analysis showed that ficolin-2 bound to the virulent Mtb H37Rv strain much more strongly than to the non-virulent M. bovis BCG and M. smegmatis. Ficolin-2 bound to the surface glycolipid portion of H37Rv and blocked H37Rv infection in human lung A549 cells. Opsonophagocytosis was also promoted by ficolin-2. Importantly, we found that administration of exogenous ficolin-2 had a remarkable protective effect against virulent Mtb H37Rv infection in both C57BL/6J and BALB/c mice. Ficolin-A (a ficolin-2-like molecule in mouse) knockout mice exhibited increased susceptibility to H37Rv infection. We further demonstrated that ficolin-2 could defend against virulent Mtb H37Rv infection at least partially by activating JNK phosphorylation and stimulating the secretion of interferon (IFN)-γ, interleukin (IL)-17, IL-6, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and nitric oxide (NO) production by macrophages. Our data provide a new immunotherapeutic strategy against TB based on the innate immune molecule ficolin-2 and indicate that ficolin-2 insufficiency is associated with higher susceptibility to infection in humans.
PMCID: PMC3767610  PMID: 24040095
14.  M2 macrophage polarisation is associated with alveolar formation during postnatal lung development 
Respiratory Research  2013;14(1):41.
Macrophages are traditionally associated with inflammation and host defence, however a greater understanding of macrophage heterogeneity is revealing their essential roles in non-immune functions such as development, homeostasis and regeneration. In organs including the brain, kidney, mammary gland and pancreas, macrophages reside in large numbers and provide essential regulatory functions that shape organ development and maturation. However, the role of macrophages in lung development and the potential implications of macrophage modulation in the promotion of lung maturation have not yet been ascertained.
Embryonic day (E)12.5 mouse lungs were cultured as explants and macrophages associated with branching morphogenesis were visualised by wholemount immunofluorescence microscopy. Postnatal lung development and the correlation with macrophage number and phenotype were examined using Colony-stimulating factor-1 receptor-enhanced green fluorescent protein (Csf1r-EGFP) reporter mice. Structural histological examination was complemented with whole-body plethysmography assessment of postnatal lung functional maturation over time.
Flow cytometry, real-time (q)PCR and immunofluorescence microscopy were performed to characterise macrophage number, phenotype and localisation in the lung during postnatal development. To assess the impact of developmental macrophage modulation, CSF-1 was administered to neonatal mice at postnatal day (P)1, 2 and 3, and lung macrophage number and phenotype were assessed at P5. EGFP transgene expression and in situ hybridisation was performed to assess CSF-1R location in the developing lung.
Macrophages in embryonic lungs were abundant and densely located within branch points during branching morphogenesis. During postnatal development, structural and functional maturation of the lung was associated with an increase in lung macrophage number. In particular, the period of alveolarisation from P14-21 was associated with increased number of Csf1r-EGFP+ macrophages and upregulated expression of Arginase 1 (Arg1), Mannose receptor 1 (Mrc1) and Chemokine C-C motif ligand 17 (Ccl17), indicative of an M2 or tissue remodelling macrophage phenotype. Administration of CSF-1 to neonatal mice increased trophic macrophages during development and was associated with increased expression of the M2-associated gene Found in inflammatory zone (Fizz)1 and the growth regulator Insulin-like growth factor (Igf)1. The effects of CSF-1 were identified as macrophage-mediated, as the CSF-1R was found to be exclusively expressed on interstitial myeloid cells.
This study identifies the presence of CSF-1R+ M2-polarised macrophages localising to sites of branching morphogenesis and increasing in number during the alveolarisation stage of normal lung development. Improved understanding of the role of macrophages in lung developmental regulation has clinical relevance for addressing neonatal inflammatory perturbation of development and highlights macrophage modulation as a potential intervention to promote lung development.
PMCID: PMC3626876  PMID: 23560845
Macrophage; CSF-1; Lung development; M2; Alveolarisation
15.  Integrative Genomic Analyses Identify BRF2 as a Novel Lineage-Specific Oncogene in Lung Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000315.
William Lockwood and colleagues show that the focal amplification of a gene, BRF2, on Chromosome 8p12 plays a key role in squamous cell carcinoma of the lung.
Traditionally, non-small cell lung cancer is treated as a single disease entity in terms of systemic therapy. Emerging evidence suggests the major subtypes—adenocarcinoma (AC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to therapy. Identification of the molecular differences between these tumor types will have a significant impact in designing novel therapies that can improve the treatment outcome.
Methods and Findings
We used an integrative genomics approach, combing high-resolution comparative genomic hybridization and gene expression microarray profiles, to compare AC and SqCC tumors in order to uncover alterations at the DNA level, with corresponding gene transcription changes, which are selected for during development of lung cancer subtypes. Through the analysis of multiple independent cohorts of clinical tumor samples (>330), normal lung tissues and bronchial epithelial cells obtained by bronchial brushing in smokers without lung cancer, we identified the overexpression of BRF2, a gene on Chromosome 8p12, which is specific for development of SqCC of lung. Genetic activation of BRF2, which encodes a RNA polymerase III (Pol III) transcription initiation factor, was found to be associated with increased expression of small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) that are involved in processes essential for cell growth, such as RNA splicing. Ectopic expression of BRF2 in human bronchial epithelial cells induced a transformed phenotype and demonstrates downstream oncogenic effects, whereas RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated knockdown suppressed growth and colony formation of SqCC cells overexpressing BRF2, but not AC cells. Frequent activation of BRF2 in >35% preinvasive bronchial carcinoma in situ, as well as in dysplastic lesions, provides evidence that BRF2 expression is an early event in cancer development of this cell lineage.
This is the first study, to our knowledge, to show that the focal amplification of a gene in Chromosome 8p12, plays a key role in squamous cell lineage specificity of the disease. Our data suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 represents a unique mechanism of SqCC lung tumorigenesis through the increase of Pol III-mediated transcription. It can serve as a marker for lung SqCC and may provide a novel target for therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the commonest cause of cancer-related death. Every year, 1.3 million people die from this disease, which is mainly caused by smoking. Most cases of lung cancer are “non-small cell lung cancers” (NSCLCs). Like all cancers, NSCLC starts when cells begin to divide uncontrollably and to move round the body (metastasize) because of changes (mutations) in their genes. These mutations are often in “oncogenes,” genes that, when activated, encourage cell division. Oncogenes can be activated by mutations that alter the properties of the proteins they encode or by mutations that increase the amount of protein made from them, such as gene amplification (an increase in the number of copies of a gene). If NSCLC is diagnosed before it has spread from the lungs (stage I disease), it can be surgically removed and many patients with stage I NSCLC survive for more than 5 years after their diagnosis. Unfortunately, in more than half of patients, NSCLC has metastasized before it is diagnosed. This stage IV NSCLC can be treated with chemotherapy (toxic chemicals that kill fast-growing cancer cells) but only 2% of patients with stage IV lung cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Traditionally, NSCLC has been regarded as a single disease in terms of treatment. However, emerging evidence suggests that the two major subtypes of NSCLC—adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to chemotherapy. Adenocarcinoma and SqCC start in different types of lung cell and experts think that for each cell type in the body, specific combinations of mutations interact with the cell type's own unique characteristics to provide the growth and survival advantage needed for cancer development. If this is true, then identifying the molecular differences between adenocarcinoma and SqCC could provide targets for more effective therapies for these major subtypes of NSCLC. Amplification of a chromosome region called 8p12 is very common in NSCLC, which suggests that an oncogene that drives lung cancer development is present in this chromosome region. In this study, the researchers investigate this possibility by looking for an amplified gene in the 8p12 chromosome region that makes increased amounts of protein in lung SqCC but not in lung adenocarcinoma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a technique called comparative genomic hybridization to show that focal regions of Chromosome 8p are amplified in about 40% of lung SqCCs, but that DNA loss in this region is the most common alteration in lung adenocarcinomas. Ten genes in the 8p12 chromosome region were expressed at higher levels in the SqCC samples that they examined than in adenocarcinoma samples, they report, and overexpression of five of these genes correlated with amplification of the 8p12 region in the SqCC samples. Only one of the genes—BRF2—was more highly expressed in squamous carcinoma cells than in normal bronchial epithelial cells (the cell type that lines the tubes that take air into the lungs and from which SqCC develops). Artificially induced expression of BRF2 in bronchial epithelial cells made these normal cells behave like tumor cells, whereas reduction of BRF2 expression in squamous carcinoma cells made them behave more like normal bronchial epithelial cells. Finally, BRF2 was frequently activated in two early stages of squamous cell carcinoma—bronchial carcinoma in situ and dysplastic lesions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Together, these findings show that the focal amplification of chromosome region 8p12 plays a role in the development of lung SqCC but not in the development of lung adenocarcinoma, the other major subtype of NSCLC. These findings identify BRF2 (which encodes a RNA polymerase III transcription initiation factor, a protein that is required for the synthesis of RNA molecules that help to control cell growth) as a lung SqCC-specific oncogene and uncover a unique mechanism for lung SqCC development. Most importantly, these findings suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 could be used as a marker for lung SqCC, which might facilitate the early detection of this type of NSCLC and that BRF2 might provide a new target for therapy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and professionals about all aspects of lung cancer, including information on non-small cell carcinoma (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK also provides information about lung cancer and information on how cancer starts
MedlinePlus has links to other resources about lung cancer (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2910599  PMID: 20668658
16.  Vitamin D related genes in lung development and asthma pathogenesis 
BMC Medical Genomics  2013;6:47.
Poor maternal vitamin D intake is a risk factor for subsequent childhood asthma, suggesting that in utero changes related to vitamin D responsive genes might play a crucial role in later disease susceptibility. We hypothesized that vitamin D pathway genes are developmentally active in the fetal lung and that these developmental genes would be associated with asthma susceptibility and regulation in asthma.
Vitamin D pathway genes were derived from PubMed and Gene Ontology surveys. Principal component analysis was used to identify characteristic lung development genes.
Vitamin D regulated genes were markedly over-represented in normal human (odds ratio OR 2.15, 95% confidence interval CI: 1.69-2.74) and mouse (OR 2.68, 95% CI: 2.12-3.39) developing lung transcriptomes. 38 vitamin D pathway genes were in both developing lung transcriptomes with >63% of genes more highly expressed in the later than earlier stages of development. In immortalized B-cells derived from 95 asthmatics and their unaffected siblings, 12 of the 38 (31.6%) vitamin D pathway lung development genes were significantly differentially expressed (OR 3.00, 95% CI: 1.43-6.21), whereas 11 (29%) genes were significantly differentially expressed in 43 control versus vitamin D treated immortalized B-cells from Childhood Asthma Management Program subjects (OR 2.62, 95% CI: 1.22-5.50). 4 genes, LAMP3, PIP5K1B, SCARB2 and TXNIP were identified in both groups; each displays significant biologic plausibility for a role in asthma.
Our findings demonstrate a significant association between early lung development and asthma–related phenotypes for vitamin D pathway genes, supporting a genomic mechanistic basis for the epidemiologic observations relating maternal vitamin D intake and childhood asthma susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC4228235  PMID: 24188128
Vitamin D; Cholecalciferol; Lung development; Asthma; Fetal programming
17.  T-Bet Polymorphisms Are Associated with Asthma and Airway Hyperresponsiveness 
Rationale: T-bet (TBX21 or T-box 21) is a critical regulator of T-helper 1 lineage commitment and IFN-γ production. Knockout mice lacking T-bet develop airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) to methacholine, peribronchial eosinophilic and lymphocytic inflammation, and increased type III collagen deposition below the bronchial epithelium basement membrane, reminiscent of both acute and chronic asthma histopathology. Little is known regarding the role of genetic variation surrounding T-bet in the development of human AHR.
Objectives: To assess the relationship between T-bet polymorphisms and asthma-related phenotypes using family-based association.
Methods: Single nucleotide polymorphism discovery was performed by resequencing the T-bet genomic locus in 30 individuals (including 22 patients with asthma). Sixteen variants were genotyped in 580 nuclear families ascertained through offspring with asthma from the Childhood Asthma Management Program clinical trial. Haplotype patterns were determined from this genotype data. Family-based tests of association were performed with asthma, AHR, lung function, total serum immunoglobulin E, and blood eosinophil levels.
Main Results: We identified 24 variants. Evidence of association was observed between c.−7947 and asthma in white families using both additive (p = 0.02) or dominant models (p = 0.006). c.−7947 and three other variants were also associated with AHR (log-methacholine PC20, p = 0.02–0.04). Haplotype analysis suggested that an AHR locus is in linkage disequilibrium with variants in the 3′UTR. Evidence of association of AHR with c.−7947, but not with other 3′UTR SNPs, was replicated in an independent cohort of adult males with AHR.
Conclusions: These data suggest that T-bet variation contributes to airway responsiveness in asthma.
PMCID: PMC2662983  PMID: 16179640
immunoglobulin E; single nucleotide polymorphism; T-box; TBX21
18.  Asthma in childhood: a complex, heterogeneous disease 
Asthma in childhood is a heterogeneous disease with different phenotypes and variable clinical manifestations, which depend on the age, gender, genetic background, and environmental influences of the patients. Several longitudinal studies have been conducted to classify the phenotypes of childhood asthma, on the basis of the symptoms, triggers of wheezing illness, or pathophysiological features of the disease. These studies have provided us with important information about the different wheezing phenotypes in young children and about potential mechanisms and risk factors for the development of chronic asthma. The goal of these studies was to provide a better insight into the causes and natural course of childhood asthma. It is well-known that complicated interactions between genes and environmental factors contribute to the development of asthma. Because childhood is a period of rapid growth in both the lungs and the immune system, developmental factors should be considered in the pathogenesis of childhood asthma. The pulmonary system continues to grow and develop until linear growth is completed. Longitudinal studies have reported significant age-related immune development during postnatal early life. These observations suggest that the phenotypes of childhood asthma vary among children and also in an individual child over time. Improved classification of heterogeneous conditions of the disease will help determine novel strategies for primary and secondary prevention and for the development of individualized treatment for childhood asthma.
PMCID: PMC3040359  PMID: 21359053
Asthma; Phenotype; Child
19.  The interaction of GSTM1 null variants with tobacco smoke exposure and the development of childhood asthma 
The glutathione S-transferase M1 (GSTM1) null variant is a common copy number variant associated with adverse pulmonary outcomes, including asthma and airflow obstruction, with evidence of important gene-by-environment interactions with exposures to oxidative stress.
To explore the joint interactive effects of GSTM1 copy number and tobacco smoke exposure on the development of asthma and asthma-related phenotypes in a family-based cohort of childhood asthmatics.
We performed quantitative PCR-based genotyping for GSTM1 copy number in children of self-reported white ancestry with mild to moderate asthma in the Childhood Asthma Management Program. Questionnaire data regarding intrauterine (IUS) and postnatal, longitudinal environmental tobacco smoke exposure were available. We performed both family-based and population-based tests of association for the interaction between GSTM1 copy number and tobacco smoke exposure with asthma and asthma-related phenotypes.
Associations of GSTM1 null variants with asthma (p= .03), younger age of asthma symptom onset (p=.03), and greater airflow obstruction (reduced FEV1/FVC, p=.01) were observed among the 50 children (10% of the cohort) with exposure to IUS. In contrast, no associations were observed between GSTM1 null variants and asthma-related phenotypes among children without IUS exposure. Presence of at least one copy of GSTM1 conferred protection.
These findings support an important gene-by-environment interaction between two common factors: increased risk of asthma and asthma-related phenotypes conferred by GSTM1-null homozygosity in children is restricted to those with a history of IUS exposure.
PMCID: PMC2773694  PMID: 19860819
Asthma; GSTM1; copy number variation (CNV); gene by environment; intrauterine smoke exposure; tobacco smoke
20.  Haplotype Association Mapping of Acute Lung Injury in Mice Implicates Activin A Receptor, Type 1 
Rationale: Because acute lung injury is a sporadic disease produced by heterogeneous precipitating factors, previous genetic analyses are mainly limited to candidate gene case-control studies.
Objectives: To develop a genome-wide strategy in which single nucleotide polymorphism associations are assessed for functional consequences to survival during acute lung injury in mice.
Methods: To identify genes associated with acute lung injury, 40 inbred strains were exposed to acrolein and haplotype association mapping, microarray, and DNA-protein binding were assessed.
Measurements and Main Results: The mean survival time varied among mouse strains with polar strains differing approximately 2.5-fold. Associations were identified on chromosomes 1, 2, 4, 11, and 12. Seven genes (Acvr1, Cacnb4, Ccdc148, Galnt13, Rfwd2, Rpap2, and Tgfbr3) had single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) associations within the gene. Because SNP associations may encompass “blocks” of associated variants, functional assessment was performed in 91 genes within ± 1 Mbp of each SNP association. Using 10% or greater allelic frequency and 10% or greater phenotype explained as threshold criteria, 16 genes were assessed by microarray and reverse real-time polymerase chain reaction. Microarray revealed several enriched pathways including transforming growth factor-β signaling. Transcripts for Acvr1, Arhgap15, Cacybp, Rfwd2, and Tgfbr3 differed between the strains with exposure and contained SNPs that could eliminate putative transcriptional factor recognition sites. Ccdc148, Fancl, and Tnn had sequence differences that could produce an amino acid substitution. Mycn and Mgat4a had a promoter SNP or 3′untranslated region SNPs, respectively. Several genes were related and encoded receptors (ACVR1, TGFBR3), transcription factors (MYCN, possibly CCDC148), and ubiquitin-proteasome (RFWD2, FANCL, CACYBP) proteins that can modulate cell signaling. An Acvr1 SNP eliminated a putative ELK1 binding site and diminished DNA–protein binding.
Conclusions: Assessment of genetic associations can be strengthened using a genetic/genomic approach. This approach identified several candidate genes, including Acvr1, associated with increased susceptibility to acute lung injury in mice.
PMCID: PMC3137140  PMID: 21297076
acute respiratory distress syndrome; smoke inhalation; carboxyl stress; transforming growth factor-&beta signaling; ubiquitination
21.  Absence of α4 but not β2 integrins restrains development of chronic allergic asthma using mouse genetic models 
Experimental hematology  2009;37(6):715-727.e3.
Chronic asthma is characterized by ongoing recruitment of inflammatory cells and airway hyperresponsiveness leading to structural airway remodeling. Although α4β1 and β2 integrins regulate leukocyte migration in inflammatory diseases and play decisive roles in acute asthma, their role has not been explored under the chronic asthma setting. To extend our earlier studies with α4Δ/Δ and β2−/− mice, which showed that both a4 and b2 integrins have nonredundant regulatory roles in acute ovalbumin (OVA)-induced asthma, we explored to what extent these molecular pathways control development of structural airway remodeling in chronic asthma.
Materials and Methods
Control, α4Δ/Δ, and β2−/−mouse groups, sensitized by intraperitoneal OVA as allergen, received intratracheal OVA periodically over days 8 to 55 to induce a chronic asthma phenotype. Post-OVA assessment of inflammation and pulmonary function (airway hyperresponsiveness), together with airway modeling measured by goblet cell metaplasia, collagen content of lung, and transforming growth factor β1 expression in lung homogenates, were evaluated.
In contrast to control and β2−/− mice, α4Δ/Δ mice failed to develop and maintain the composite chronic asthma phenotype evaluated as mentioned and subepithelial collagen content was comparable to baseline. These data indicate that β2 integrins, although required for inflammatory migration in acute asthma, are dispensable for structural remodeling in chronic asthma.
α4 integrins appear to have a regulatory role in directing transforming growth factor β-induced collagen deposition and structural alterations in lung architecture likely through interactions of Th2 cells, eosinophils, or mast cells with endothelium, resident airway cells, and/or extracellular matrix.
PMCID: PMC3696022  PMID: 19463772
22.  Variants in a Novel Epidermal Collagen Gene (COL29A1) Are Associated with Atopic Dermatitis 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(9):e242.
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common chronic inflammatory skin disorder and a major manifestation of allergic disease. AD typically presents in early childhood often preceding the onset of an allergic airway disease, such as asthma or hay fever. We previously mapped a susceptibility locus for AD on Chromosome 3q21. To identify the underlying disease gene, we used a dense map of microsatellite markers and single nucleotide polymorphisms, and we detected association with AD. In concordance with the linkage results, we found a maternal transmission pattern. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the same families contribute to linkage and association. We replicated the association and the maternal effect in a large independent family cohort. A common haplotype showed strong association with AD (p = 0.000059). The associated region contained a single gene, COL29A1, which encodes a novel epidermal collagen. COL29A1 shows a specific gene expression pattern with the highest transcript levels in skin, lung, and the gastrointestinal tract, which are the major sites of allergic disease manifestation. Lack of COL29A1 expression in the outer epidermis of AD patients points to a role of collagen XXIX in epidermal integrity and function, the breakdown of which is a clinical hallmark of AD.
Author Summary
Atopic dermatitis (AD, eczema) is a common chronic inflammatory skin disorder and a major manifestation of allergic disease. Typically, AD first occurs in early childhood, often preceding the onset of allergic airways disease, such as asthma and hay fever. A family history of allergic disorders is the single strongest predictor for AD, showing that genetic factors play a major role in the disease development. We have previously mapped a disease locus for AD on Chromosome 3q21, Now we have used a dense map of microsatellite markers and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to find the underlying disease gene. We identified genetic markers in a subregion that showed association with AD, and replicated this finding in a large independent family cohort. The associated region contained a single gene, COL29A1, which encodes a novel collagen. We demonstrate that AD patients lack COL29A1 expression in the outer epidermis, implicating collagen XXIX in epidermal integrity and function. The gene expression pattern of COL29A1 in other organs, including the lung and the gut, suggests that this gene could have a role in a wider spectrum of allergic diseases and may provide a molecular link between AD and respiratory airways disease and food allergies.
The gene underlying atopic dermatitis susceptibility has been identified by gene mapping as expressing a novel collagen, whose expression is lacking in the outer epidermis of atopic dermatitis patients.
PMCID: PMC1971127  PMID: 17850181
23.  Functional variants of sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor 1 gene associate with asthma susceptibility 
The genetic mechanisms underlying asthma remain unclear. Increased permeability of the microvasculature is a feature of asthma and the sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor, S1PR1, is an essential participant regulating lung vascular integrity and responses to lung inflammation.
We explored the contribution of polymorphisms in the S1PR1 gene (S1PR1) to asthma susceptibility.
A combination of gene re-sequencing for SNP discovery, case-control association, functional evaluation of associated SNPs, and protein immunochemistry studies was utilized.
Immunohistochemistry studies demonstrated significantly decreased S1PR1 protein expression in pulmonary vessels in asthmatic lungs compared to non-asthmatic individuals (p<0.05). Direct DNA sequencing of 27 multiethnic samples identified 39 S1PR1 variants (18 novel SNPs). Association studies were performed based on genotyping results from cosmopolitan tagging SNPs in three case-control cohorts from Chicago and New York totaling 1061 subjects (502 cases and 559 controls). Promoter SNP rs2038366 (−1557G/T) was found to be associated with asthma (p=0.03) in European Americans. In African Americans, an association was found for both asthma and severe asthma for intronic SNP rs3753194 (c.−164+170A/G) (p=0.006 and p=0.040, respectively) and for promoter SNP rs59317557 (−532C/G) with severe asthma (p=0.028). Consistent with predicted in silico functionality, alleles of promoter SNPs rs2038366 (−1557G/T) and rs59317557 (−532C/G) influenced the activity of a luciferase S1PR1 reporter vector in transfected endothelial cells exposed to growth factors (EGF, PDGF, VEGF) known to be increased in asthmatic airways.
These data provide strong support for a role for S1PR1 gene variants in asthma susceptibility and severity.
Clinical Implications
Our results indicate S1PR1 is a novel asthma candidate gene and an attractive target for future therapeutic strategies.
Capsule summary
This study identified novel polymorphisms in S1PR1, revealed the functional implications of S1PR1 genetic variants in different populations, and their association with asthma susceptibility and severity.
PMCID: PMC3495167  PMID: 20624651
asthma; sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor 1; single nucleotide polymorphism; promoter activity
24.  Suppressed Expression of T-Box Transcription Factors Is Involved in Senescence in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(7):e1002597.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major global health problem. The etiology of COPD has been associated with apoptosis, oxidative stress, and inflammation. However, understanding of the molecular interactions that modulate COPD pathogenesis remains only partly resolved. We conducted an exploratory study on COPD etiology to identify the key molecular participants. We used information-theoretic algorithms including Context Likelihood of Relatedness (CLR), Algorithm for the Reconstruction of Accurate Cellular Networks (ARACNE), and Inferelator. We captured direct functional associations among genes, given a compendium of gene expression profiles of human lung epithelial cells. A set of genes differentially expressed in COPD, as reported in a previous study were superposed with the resulting transcriptional regulatory networks. After factoring in the properties of the networks, an established COPD susceptibility locus and domain-domain interactions involving protein products of genes in the generated networks, several molecular candidates were predicted to be involved in the etiology of COPD. These include COL4A3, CFLAR, GULP1, PDCD1, CASP10, PAX3, BOK, HSPD1, PITX2, and PML. Furthermore, T-box (TBX) genes and cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A), which are in a direct transcriptional regulatory relationship, emerged as preeminent participants in the etiology of COPD by means of senescence. Contrary to observations in neoplasms, our study reveals that the expression of genes and proteins in the lung samples from patients with COPD indicate an increased tendency towards cellular senescence. The expression of the anti-senescence mediators TBX transcription factors, chromatin modifiers histone deacetylases, and sirtuins was suppressed; while the expression of TBX-regulated cellular senescence markers such as CDKN2A, CDKN1A, and CAV1 was elevated in the peripheral lung tissue samples from patients with COPD. The critical balance between senescence and anti-senescence factors is disrupted towards senescence in COPD lungs.
Author Summary
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is among the most lethal of respiratory diseases. While this disease has been well characterized, more studies are needed to learn the interaction of macromolecules involved in the progression towards illness. We explored possible interactions involved in the disease process using a compendium of gene expression data from frontline cells of the respiratory airways of the lung. The gene expression data were generated under a variety of experimental conditions. Application of computational schemes, which robustly detect enduring patterns, among sections of the genes represented across the varying experimental perturbations, revealed important regulatory relationships. When gene expression data from lungs of patients with COPD were factored into these networks of regulatory relationships, certain highly connected nodes (hubs) representing differentially expressed genes emerged. Notably included are members of the T-box (TBX) family of genes and CDKN2A, which regulate cellular aging. These findings were confirmed in studies using lung samples from COPD patients. Novel genes linked to TBX and CDKN2A include COL4A3, CFLAR, GULP1, PDCD1, CASP10, PAX3, BOK, HSPD1, PITX2, and PML, which were thus predicted to be involved in the disease process. The balance between senescence and anti-senescence factors is disrupted towards senescence in COPD lungs.
PMCID: PMC3400575  PMID: 22829758
25.  Fetal exposure to bisphenol A as a risk factor for the development of childhood asthma: an animal model study 
Environmental Health  2012;11:8.
The prevalence of asthma in industrialized countries has been increasing dramatically and asthma is now the most common chronic disease of children in the United States. The rapidity of the increase strongly suggests that changes in environmental exposures are the likely cause of this epidemic. Further, the early onset of allergic manifestations suggests that these exposures may act on the prenatal development of the immune system. We have focused on the potential effects of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical pollutant with one of the largest productions, on the development of childhood asthma. We have reported that perinatal BPA exposure promotes the development of allergic asthma in a mouse model. The current study was designed to identify a critical period of BPA exposure and to begin elucidating the mechanisms for this susceptibility.
Female BALB/c mice received 10 micro g/ml BPA in their drinking water from one week before pregnancy until the end of the study. Some of the pups were transferred in the first 48 h of life from their BPA-loaded mother to an unexposed mother, or vice versa. Half of the pups were sensitized with a low dose of the experimental allergen ovalbumin (OVA), the rest received PBS as an unsensitized controls. On day 22, the pups were challenged by inhalations of ovalbumin or PBS followed by quantification of eosinophils in and hyperreactivity of their airways, major indicators of experimental asthma in this classical mouse model. Hepatic expression of two isoforms of UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (Ugt) was quantified by quantitative RT-PCR at various ages.
Pups exposed to BPA in utero and through breast milk, or in utero only, displayed an asthma phenotype in response to their "suboptimal" allergic sensitization, whereas, pups only exposed to BPA postnatally from breast milk, did not. The expression of Ugt2b1, an isoform related to BPA clearance in rats, was not detectable in mouse fetuses and newborn pups, but increased by day 5 and approached adult levels by day 25.
Prenatal exposures that produce environmentally relevant burdens of BPA, followed by postnatal allergic sensitization and challenges, promote the development of experimental allergic asthma. Delayed expression of BPA-metabolizing enzymes may explain, at least in part, the enhanced fetal susceptibility to this common environmental contaminant.
PMCID: PMC3306825  PMID: 22353195
Animal model; Asthma; Bisphenol A; BPA; Environmental estrogen; Enzyme; Fetal exposure; Metabolism; Ovalbumin; Ugt2b1

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