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1.  Causal Relationship between Obesity and Vitamin D Status: Bi-Directional Mendelian Randomization Analysis of Multiple Cohorts 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001383.
A mendelian randomization study based on data from multiple cohorts conducted by Karani Santhanakrishnan Vimaleswaran and colleagues re-examines the causal nature of the relationship between vitamin D levels and obesity.
Background
Obesity is associated with vitamin D deficiency, and both are areas of active public health concern. We explored the causality and direction of the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] using genetic markers as instrumental variables (IVs) in bi-directional Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis.
Methods and Findings
We used information from 21 adult cohorts (up to 42,024 participants) with 12 BMI-related SNPs (combined in an allelic score) to produce an instrument for BMI and four SNPs associated with 25(OH)D (combined in two allelic scores, separately for genes encoding its synthesis or metabolism) as an instrument for vitamin D. Regression estimates for the IVs (allele scores) were generated within-study and pooled by meta-analysis to generate summary effects.
Associations between vitamin D scores and BMI were confirmed in the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium (n = 123,864). Each 1 kg/m2 higher BMI was associated with 1.15% lower 25(OH)D (p = 6.52×10−27). The BMI allele score was associated both with BMI (p = 6.30×10−62) and 25(OH)D (−0.06% [95% CI −0.10 to −0.02], p = 0.004) in the cohorts that underwent meta-analysis. The two vitamin D allele scores were strongly associated with 25(OH)D (p≤8.07×10−57 for both scores) but not with BMI (synthesis score, p = 0.88; metabolism score, p = 0.08) in the meta-analysis. A 10% higher genetically instrumented BMI was associated with 4.2% lower 25(OH)D concentrations (IV ratio: −4.2 [95% CI −7.1 to −1.3], p = 0.005). No association was seen for genetically instrumented 25(OH)D with BMI, a finding that was confirmed using data from the GIANT consortium (p≥0.57 for both vitamin D scores).
Conclusions
On the basis of a bi-directional genetic approach that limits confounding, our study suggests that a higher BMI leads to lower 25(OH)D, while any effects of lower 25(OH)D increasing BMI are likely to be small. Population level interventions to reduce BMI are expected to decrease the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Obesity—having an unhealthy amount of body fat—is increasing worldwide. In the US, for example, a third of the adult population is now obese. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI, an indicator of body fat calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared) of more than 30.0 kg/m2. Although there is a genetic contribution to obesity, people generally become obese by consuming food and drink that contains more energy than they need for their daily activities. Thus, obesity can be prevented by having a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Compared to people with a healthy weight, obese individuals have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and tend to die younger. They also have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, another increasingly common public health concern. Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones as well as other functions, is made in the skin after exposure to sunlight but can also be obtained through the diet and through supplements.
Why Was This Study Done?
Observational studies cannot prove that obesity causes vitamin D deficiency because obese individuals may share other characteristics that reduce their circulating 25-hydroxy vitamin D [25(OH)D] levels (referred to as confounding). Moreover, observational studies cannot indicate whether the larger vitamin D storage capacity of obese individuals (vitamin D is stored in fatty tissues) lowers their 25(OH)D levels or whether 25(OH)D levels influence fat accumulation (reverse causation). If obesity causes vitamin D deficiency, monitoring and treating vitamin D deficiency might alleviate some of the adverse health effects of obesity. Conversely, if low vitamin D levels cause obesity, encouraging people to take vitamin D supplements might help to control the obesity epidemic. Here, the researchers use bi-directional “Mendelian randomization” to examine the direction and causality of the relationship between BMI and 25(OH)D. In Mendelian randomization, causality is inferred from associations between genetic variants that mimic the influence of a modifiable environmental exposure and the outcome of interest. Because gene variants do not change over time and are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. Thus, if a lower vitamin D status leads to obesity, genetic variants associated with lower 25(OH)D concentrations should be associated with higher BMI, and if obesity leads to a lower vitamin D status, then genetic variants associated with higher BMI should be associated with lower 25(OH)D concentrations.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers created a “BMI allele score” based on 12 BMI-related gene variants and two “25(OH)D allele scores,” which are based on gene variants that affect either 25(OH)D synthesis or breakdown. Using information on up to 42,024 participants from 21 studies, the researchers showed that the BMI allele score was associated with both BMI and with 25(OH)D levels among the study participants. Based on this information, they calculated that each 10% increase in BMI will lead to a 4.2% decrease in 25(OH)D concentrations. By contrast, although both 25(OH)D allele scores were strongly associated with 25(OH)D levels, neither score was associated with BMI. This lack of an association between 25(OH)D allele scores and obesity was confirmed using data from more than 100,000 individuals involved in 46 studies that has been collected by the GIANT (Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits) consortium.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that a higher BMI leads to a lower vitamin D status whereas any effects of low vitamin D status on BMI are likely to be small. That is, these findings provide evidence for obesity as a causal factor in the development of vitamin D deficiency but not for vitamin D deficiency as a causal factor in the development of obesity. These findings suggest that population-level interventions to reduce obesity should lead to a reduction in the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and highlight the importance of monitoring and treating vitamin D deficiency as a means of alleviating the adverse influences of obesity on health.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001383.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish); a data brief provides information about the vitamin D status of the US population
The World Health Organization provides information on obesity (in several languages)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides detailed information about obesity and a link to a personal story about losing weight; it also provides information about vitamin D
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about the global obesity epidemic
The US Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate.gov website provides a personal healthy eating plan; the Weight-control Information Network is an information service provided for the general public and health professionals by the US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (in English and Spanish)
The US Office of Dietary Supplements provides information about vitamin D (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus has links to further information about obesity and about vitamin D (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)
Overview and details of the collaborative large-scale genetic association study (D-CarDia) provide information about vitamin D and the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and related traits
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001383
PMCID: PMC3564800  PMID: 23393431
2.  Childhood asthma may be a consequence of vitamin D deficiency 
Purpose of Review
Vitamin D deficiency has been rediscovered as a public health problem worldwide. It has been postulated that vitamin D deficiency may explain a portion of the asthma epidemic. The purpose of this review is to present the evidence for a role of vitamin D in asthma.
Recent Findings
Both animal models and studies in human fetal tissues show that vitamin D plays a role in fetal lung growth and maturation. Epidemiologic studies have also suggested that higher prenatal vitamin D intakes have a protective role against wheezing illnesses in young children. Vitamin D may protect against wheezing illnesses through its role in upregulating antimicrobial proteins or through its multiple immune effects. In addition, vitamin D may play a therapeutic role in steroid resistant asthmatics, and lower vitamin D levels have recently been associated with higher risks for asthma exacerbations.
Summary
Improving vitamin D status holds promise in primary prevention of asthma, in decreasing exacerbations of disease, and in treating steroid resistance. However, the appropriate level of circulating vitamin D for optimal immune functioning remains unclear. Because vitamin D deficiency is prevalent even in sun-replete areas, clinical trials are needed to definitively answer questions about the role of vitamin D in asthma.
doi:10.1097/ACI.0b013e32832b36cd
PMCID: PMC2897155  PMID: 19365260
asthma; vitamin D; allergies; sun exposure; wheeze
3.  Symposium 3: Vitamin D and immune function: from pregnancy to adolescence 
Vitamin D is an important regulator of the immune system in general and multiple sclerosis in particular. Experimentally (i), invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells have been shown to be important suppressors of autoimmune diseases such as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE; an animal model of multiple sclerosis). Conversely, in experimental allergic asthma iNKT cells are required for disease induction and are therefore pathogenic. The active form of vitamin D (calcitriol) suppresses EAE. The development of EAE symptoms is accelerated in vitamin D deficiency. Interestingly experimental asthma is less severe in vitamin D deficiency although there is no effect of calcitriol on disease severity. The data suggest that an important target of vitamin D in EAE and asthma are the iNKT cells. Vitamin D and/or vitamin D receptor deficiency results in the impaired development of iNKT cells. Vitamin D is critical very early during development of the immune system. Low levels of vitamin D in utero resulted in significantly reduced numbers of iNKT cells that failed to recover when calcitriol was used to supplement neonatal or adult mice. The data suggest that one of the consequences of early vitamin D deficiency is a reduction in the numbers of iNKT cells that develop. The iNKT cells are required for the beneficial effects of calcitriol in EAE. The important role of vitamin D on iNKT cells could impact the development of human immune-mediated diseases including multiple sclerosis and asthma.
doi:10.1017/S0029665111003193
PMCID: PMC3733090  PMID: 21996367
Vitamin D; Immune function; Multiple sclerosis; Asthma; NKT cell
4.  The impact of vitamin D deficiency on immune T cells in asthmatic children: a case-control study 
Background
Vitamin D exerts profound effects on both adaptive and innate immune functions involved in the development and course of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. As the incidence of vitamin D insufficiency is surprisingly high in the general population, experimental studies have started to investigate whether vitamin D levels (measured as serum 25 hydroxy vitamin D-25[OH]D) are correlated with immune cells and clinical parameters.
Purpose
The aim of the present research was to investigate serum vitamin D status in a case-control study in children with asthma and to study associations between vitamin D levels and certain immunological parameters.
Materials and methods
A case control study of thirty-nine children with clinically controlled asthma was enrolled to assess the relationship between serum vitamin D concentrations and disease activity. Vitamin D was assayed with a radioimmunoassay kit. We evaluated the relationship between vitamin D concentrations and forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), and the FEV1/FVC ratio. Correlations between inflammatory mediators, Th1, Th2, Th17, and regulatory T cells (Treg) and vitamin D were investigated.
Results
Only 15.38% of our asthmatic children had a sufficient serum 25(OH)D (≥30 ng/mL) whereas 80% of healthy children expressed sufficient levels. Deficient values of vitamin D (<20 ng/mL) were observed in 17 (43.59%) asthmatic patients (14.40 ± 3.30 ng/mL; P = 0.0001). Deficiency was not observed in controls. Th1/Th2 ratio was significantly correlated to 25(OH) D level (r = 0.698; P = 0.0001). A significant negative correlation was observed between serum interleukin-17 and vitamin D levels in young asthmatics (r = −0.617; P = 0.001). A significant correlation was observed between CD25+Foxp3+ Treg cells and vitamin D values in asthmatics (r = 0.368; P = 0.021).
Conclusion
Even in a southern Mediterranean country, hypovitaminosis D is frequent in children with asthma. Our findings suggest that vitamin D is an important promoter of T cell regulation in vivo in young asthmatics.
doi:10.2147/JAA.S29566
PMCID: PMC3363015  PMID: 22690128
vitamin D; Th17; Treg cells; asthma; children
5.  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
Background
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.
Conclusions
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
Background
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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001669.
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)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001669
PMCID: PMC4077660  PMID: 24983943
6.  Vitamin D binding protein variants associate with asthma susceptibility in the Chinese han population 
BMC Medical Genetics  2011;12:103.
Background
Asthma is a genetically heterogeneous disease. Polymorphisms of genes encoding components of the vitamin D pathway have been reported to associate with the risk of asthma. We have previously demonstrated that vitamin D status was associated with lung function in Chinese asthma patients. In this study, we tested whether polymorphisms of genes encoding for vitamin D receptor (VDR), vitamin D 25-hydroxylase (CYP2R1) and vitamin D binding protein (GC) were associated with asthma in the Chinese Han population.
Methods
We sequenced all 8 exons of VDR and all 5 exons of CYP2R1 in a Chinese case-control cohort of asthma consisting of 467 cases and 288 unrelated healthy controls. Two mutations were identified in these regions. These variants were specified as rs2228570 in exon 2 of VDR and rs12794714 in exon 1 of CYP2R1. We also genotyped two common polymorphisms in GC gene (rs4588 and rs7041) by a PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) method. We analyzed the association between these 4 polymorphisms and asthma susceptibility and asthma-related traits.
Results
Polymorphic markers in VDR and CYP2R1 were not associated with asthma in the Chinese Han cohort. Importantly, variants in GC gene, which give rise to the two most common electrophoretic isoforms of the vitamin D binding protein, were associated with asthma susceptibility. Compared with isoform Gc1, Gc2 was significantly associated with the risk of asthma (OR = 1.35, 95% CI = 1.01-1.78 p = 0.006).
Conclusions
The results provide supporting evidence for association between GC variants and asthma susceptibility in the Chinese Han population.
doi:10.1186/1471-2350-12-103
PMCID: PMC3163515  PMID: 21810276
7.  The Role of Socioeconomic Status in Longitudinal Trends of Cholera in Matlab, Bangladesh, 1993–2007 
There has been little evidence of a decline in the global burden of cholera in recent years as the number of cholera cases reported to WHO continues to rise. Cholera remains a global threat to public health and a key indicator of lack of socioeconomic development. Overall socioeconomic development is the ultimate solution for control of cholera as evidenced in developed countries. However, most research has focused on cross-county comparisons so that the role of individual- or small area-level socioeconomic status (SES) in cholera dynamics has not been carefully studied. Reported cases of cholera in Matlab, Bangladesh have fluctuated greatly over time and epidemic outbreaks of cholera continue, most recently with the introduction of a new serotype into the region. The wealth of longitudinal data on the population of Matlab provides a unique opportunity to explore the impact of socioeconomic status and other demographic characteristics on the long-term temporal dynamics of cholera in the region. In this population-based study we examine which factors impact the initial number of cholera cases in a bari at the beginning of the 0139 epidemic and the factors impacting the number of cases over time. Cholera data were derived from the ICDDR,B health records and linked to socioeconomic and geographic data collected as part of the Matlab Health and Demographic Surveillance System. Longitudinal zero-inflated Poisson (ZIP) multilevel regression models are used to examine the impact of environmental and socio-demographic factors on cholera counts across baris. Results indicate that baris with a high socioeconomic status had lower initial rates of cholera at the beginning of the 0139 epidemic (γ01 = −0.147, p = 0.041) and a higher probability of reporting no cholera cases (α01 = 0.156, p = 0.061). Populations in baris characterized by low SES are more likely to experience higher cholera morbidity at the beginning of an epidemic than populations in high SES baris.
Author Summary
Cholera is a bacterial disease usually spread through contaminated water that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. Modern sewage and water treatment have virtually eliminated cholera in industrialized countries but cholera is still present throughout much of SE Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. One of the reasons cholera is still problematic is that genetically distinct forms of the bacteria (often called biotypes) have developed and spread rapidly because the population has no natural immunity to the new biotype. In Bangladesh, the 0139 biotype developed in 1993 and caused a large epidemic. Although it is widely accepted that poor conditions place people at risk for cholera, very few studies have examine what role low socioeconomic status plays in cholera risk, especially during a new epidemic of the disease. In this paper, we explore how local-level socioeconomic status, measured using assets, education and sanitation, affect the severity of the cholera outbreak experienced during the O139 epidemic in Matlab, Bangladesh. We believe our study highlights the importance of improving overall socioeconomic status, not just sanitation and water treatment, in controlling the spread of cholera.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0001997
PMCID: PMC3542183  PMID: 23326618
8.  Reversible Control by Vitamin D of Granulocytes and Bacteria in the Lungs of Mice: An Ovalbumin-Induced Model of Allergic Airway Disease 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67823.
Vitamin D may be essential for restricting the development and severity of allergic diseases and asthma, but a direct causal link between vitamin D deficiency and asthma has yet to be established. We have developed a ‘low dose’ model of allergic airway disease induced by intraperitoneal injection with ovalbumin (1 µg) and aluminium hydroxide (0.2 mg) in which characteristics of atopic asthma are recapitulated, including airway hyperresponsiveness, antigen-specific immunoglobulin type-E and lung inflammation. We assessed the effects of vitamin D deficiency throughout life (from conception until adulthood) on the severity of ovalbumin-induced allergic airway disease in vitamin D-replete and -deficient BALB/c mice using this model. Vitamin D had protective effects such that deficiency significantly enhanced eosinophil and neutrophil numbers in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of male but not female mice. Vitamin D also suppressed the proliferation and T helper cell type-2 cytokine-secreting capacity of airway-draining lymph node cells from both male and female mice. Supplementation of initially vitamin D-deficient mice with vitamin D for four weeks returned serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D to levels observed in initially vitamin D-replete mice, and also suppressed eosinophil and neutrophil numbers in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of male mice. Using generic 16 S rRNA primers, increased bacterial levels were detected in the lungs of initially vitamin D-deficient male mice, which were also reduced by vitamin D supplementation. These results indicate that vitamin D controls granulocyte levels in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid in an allergen-sensitive manner, and may contribute towards the severity of asthma in a gender-specific fashion through regulation of respiratory bacteria.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067823
PMCID: PMC3691156  PMID: 23826346
9.  Vitamin D in asthma and future perspectives 
Humans have the ability to synthesize vitamin D during the action of ultraviolet (UV) radiation upon the skin. Apart from the regulation of calcium and phosphate metabolism, another critical role for vitamin D in immunity and respiratory health has been revealed, since vitamin D receptors have also been found in other body cells. The term “vitamin D insufficiency” has been used to describe low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D that may be associated with a wide range of pulmonary diseases, including viral and bacterial respiratory infection, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer. This review focuses on the controversial relationship between vitamin D and asthma. Also, it has been found that different gene polymorphisms of the vitamin D receptor have variable associations with asthma. Other studies investigated the vitamin D receptor signaling pathway in vitro or in experimental animal models and showed either a beneficial or a negative effect of vitamin D in asthma. Furthermore, a range of epidemiological studies has also suggested that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with low lung function. In the future, clinical trials in different asthmatic groups, such as infants, children of school age, and ethnic minorities are needed to establish the role of vitamin D supplementation to prevent and/or treat asthma.
doi:10.2147/DDDT.S50599
PMCID: PMC3785396  PMID: 24082782
vitamin D; asthma; immunomodulation; anti-inflammation
10.  Exposure to UV Wavelengths in Sunlight Suppresses Immunity. To What Extent is UV-induced Vitamin D3 the Mediator Responsible? 
Reduced immunity following exposure of skin to UV radiation (UVR) may explain the positive latitude gradient measured for a number of autoimmune diseases (greater incidence of disease with residence at higher latitudes), including multiple sclerosis, allergic asthma and diabetes. Humans obtain >80% of their vitamin D3 by exposure of skin to UVR in sunlight. In experimental models, both vitamin D3-dependent and vitamin D3-independent pathways have been implicated in the mechanisms of UVR-induced systemic suppression of immunity. However, where does the balance of control lie? How important is vitamin D3 other than providing a biomarker of sun exposure? Are other molecules/pathways activated by UVR more important? Murine and human studies suggest many molecules may play a role and their participation may vary with different diseases and the time of UVR exposure or vitamin D3 sufficiency/deficiency. Although low vitamin D3 levels have been associated with increased prevalence and progression of human autoimmune diseases, the benefits of supplementation with vitamin D3 have not been definitive. Vitamin D3 levels are a measure of past sun exposure but vitamin D3-dependent and vitamin D3-independent immunosuppressive effects of UVR may play a role in control of autoimmune diseases.
PMCID: PMC3626364  PMID: 23592888
11.  Anti-Interferon Autoantibodies in Autoimmune Polyendocrinopathy Syndrome Type 1 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e289.
Background
The autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene influences thymic self-tolerance induction. In autoimmune polyendocrinopathy syndrome type 1 (APS1; OMIM 240300), recessive AIRE mutations lead to autoimmunity targetting endocrine and other epithelial tissues, although chronic candidiasis usually appears first. Autoimmunity and chronic candidiasis can associate with thymomas as well. Patients with these tumours frequently also have high titre immunoglobulin G autoantibodies neutralising type I interferon (IFN)–α and IFN-ω, which are secreted signalling proteins of the cytokine superfamily involved in both innate and adaptive immunity.
Methods and Findings
We tested for serum autoantibodies to type I IFNs and other immunoregulatory cytokines using specific binding and neutralisation assays. Unexpectedly, in 60/60 Finnish and 16/16 Norwegian APS1 patients with both AIRE alleles mutated, we found high titre neutralising immunoglobulin G autoantibodies to most IFN-α subtypes and especially IFN-ω (60% homologous to IFN-α)—mostly in the earliest samples. We found lower titres against IFN-β (30% homologous to IFN-α) in 23% of patients; two-thirds of these (from Finland only) also had low titres against the distantly related “type III IFN” (IFN-λ1; alias interleukin-29). However, autoantibodies to the unrelated type II IFN, IFN-γ, and other immunoregulatory cytokines, such as interleukin-10 and interleukin-12, were much rarer and did not neutralise.
Neutralising titres against type I IFNs averaged even higher in patients with APS1 than in patients with thymomas. Anti–type I IFN autoantibodies preceded overt candidiasis (and several of the autoimmune disorders) in the informative patients, and persisted for decades thereafter. They were undetectable in unaffected heterozygous relatives of APS1 probands (except for low titres against IFN-λ1), in APS2 patients, and in isolated cases of the endocrine diseases most typical of APS1, so they appear to be APS1-specific.
Looking for potentially autoimmunising cell types, we found numerous IFN-α+ antigen-presenting cells—plus strong evidence of local IFN secretion—in the normal thymic medulla (where AIRE expression is strongest), and also in normal germinal centres, where it could perpetuate these autoantibody responses once initiated. IFN-α2 and IFN-α8 transcripts were also more abundant in antigen-presenting cells cultured from an APS1 patient's blood than from age-matched healthy controls.
Conclusions
These apparently spontaneous autoantibody responses to IFNs, particularly IFN-α and IFN-ω, segregate like a recessive trait; their high “penetrance” is especially remarkable for such a variable condition. Their apparent restriction to APS1 patients implies practical value in the clinic, e.g., in diagnosing unusual or prodromal AIRE-mutant patients with only single components of APS1, and possibly in prognosis if they prove to predict its onset. These autoantibody responses also raise numerous questions, e.g., about the rarity of other infections in APS1. Moreover, there must also be clues to autoimmunising mechanisms/cell types in the hierarchy of preferences for IFN-ω, IFN-α8, IFN-α2, and IFN-β and IFN-λ1.
Almost all of nearly 100 APS1 patients studied made large amounts of auto-antibodies that blocked the function of IFN-α and IFN-ω. The antibodies appeared early during development of the disease and may play a role in its etiology.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The human body is under constant attack by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, but the immune system usually prevents these pathogens from causing disease. To be effective, the immune system has to respond rapidly to foreign antigens (bits of protein specific to pathogens) while ignoring self-antigens. If tolerance to self-antigens breaks down, autoimmunity develops, often causing disease. There are many common autoimmune diseases—type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis, for example—but because these involve defects in many genes as well as environmental factors, the details of how autoimmunity develops remain unclear. Autoimmune polyendocrinopathy syndrome type 1 (APS1), however, is caused by defects in a single gene. Patients with this rare disease characteristically have defects (or mutations) in both copies of a gene called AIRE (for autoimmune regulator). In normal people, the protein product of this gene helps to establish tolerance to a subset of self-antigens. People carrying AIRE mutations make an autoimmune response against some of their own tissues, typically the endocrine (hormone-producing) tissues that control body metabolism. A major component of this autoimmune response are “autoantibodies” (antibodies are immune molecules that normally recognize and attack foreign substances, whereas autoantibodies are directed against the body's own molecules).
Why Was This Study Done?
For a diagnosis of APS1, a patient must have at least two of the following symptoms: recurrent, localized yeast infections (usually the first symptom of the disease to appear in early childhood), hypoparathyroidism (failure of the gland that controls calcium levels in the body), and Addison disease (failure of the steroid-producing adrenal glands, which help the body respond to stress). The researchers who did this study had previously noticed that these yeast infections and autoimmunity (usually against muscle) can also occur in patients with tumors of the thymus (thymomas). The thymus is the organ that generates immune cells called T cells. Generation of the T cell repertoire in the thymus involves selection of those T cells that recognize only foreign substances. T cells that can react against self-antigens are eliminated, and the AIRE gene is thought to be involved in this “education process.” Like those with APS1, patients with thymomas make autoantibodies not only against target organs (especially muscle in their case), but also against interferon alpha (IFN-α) and interferon omega (IFN-ω), two secreted immune regulators. The researchers wanted to know if patients with APS1 also make autoantibodies against interferons, because this could provide insights into how autoimmunity develops in APS1 and other autoimmune diseases.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers tested blood from nearly 100 APS1 patients for antibodies to IFN-α, IFN-ω, and other immunoregulatory cytokines. They found that almost all patients made large amounts of antibodies that blocked the function of IFN-α and IFN-ω; some also made lower amounts of antibodies against two related interferons, but none made blocking antibodies against unrelated interferons or other immune regulators. For many patients, serum samples were available at different times during their disease, which allowed the researchers to show that the antibodies appeared early in disease development, before the onset of yeast infections or damage to endocrine tissues, and their production continued for decades as the patient aged. Furthermore, only patients with APS1 made these antibodies—they were absent in patients with Addison disease alone, for example.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The discovery that autoantibodies to IFN-α and IFN-ω are made persistently in patients with APS1 suggests ways in which autoimmunity develops in these patients. These can now be investigated further both in patients and in animal models of the disease. The discovery also has practical implications. Measurement of these autoantibodies might help some APS1 patients by allowing earlier diagnosis—and prompter treatment—than in current practice. The levels of these autoantibodies might also help to predict the time course of APS1 in individual patients, although more studies will be needed to check this out. Finally, if future studies show that interferon autoantibodies are responsible for the patients' susceptibility to yeast infections (which seems plausible), treatment with IFN-γ, an interferon to which APS1 patients do not make autoantibodies, might provide an alternative way to deal with this problem.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030289.
• MedlinePlus pages on autoimmune diseases
• Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man page on APS1
• Links to patient information on APS1 from the Stanford Health Library
• Wikipedia page on autoendocrine polyendocrinopathy (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
• Information on autoimmunity from the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030289
PMCID: PMC1475653  PMID: 16784312
12.  A quantitative synthesis of the medicinal ethnobotany of the Malinké of Mali and the Asháninka of Peru, with a new theoretical framework 
Background
Although ethnomedically and taxonomically guided searches for new medicinal plants can improve the percentage of plants found containing active compounds when compared to random sampling, ethnobotany has fulfilled little of its promise in the last few decades to deliver a bounty of new, laboratory-proven medicinal plants and compounds. It is quite difficult to test, isolate, and elucidate the structure and mechanism of compounds from the plethora of new medicinal plant uses described each year with limited laboratory time and resources and the high cost of clinical trials of new drug candidates.
Methods
A new quantitative theoretical framework of mathematical formulas called "relational efficacy" is proposed that should narrow down this search for new plant-derived medicines based on the hypothesis that closely related plants used to treat closely related diseases in distantly related cultures have a higher probability of being effective because they are more likely to be independent discoveries of similar plant compounds and disease mechanisms. A prerequisite to this hypothesis, the idea that empirical testing in traditional medicine will lead to choosing similar medicinal plants and therefore the medicinal flora of two distant cultures will prove to be more similar than their general flora, is tested using resampling statistics on cross-cultural field data of the plants used by the Malinké of Mali and the Asháninka of Peru to treat the diseases malaria, African sleeping sickness, Chagas' disease, leishmaniasis, diabetes, eczema, asthma, and uterine fibroids.
Results
In this case, the similarity of the medicinal floras is found to be significantly greater than the similarity of the general floras, but only when the diseases in question are grouped into the categories of parasitic and autoimmune diseases.
Conclusion
If the central theoretical framework of this hypothesis is shown to be true, it will allow the synthesis of medicinal plant information from around the world to pinpoint the species with the highest potential efficacy to take into the laboratory and analyze further, ultimately saving much field and laboratory time and resources.
Spanish abstract
Las búsquedas que utilizan la etnomedicina y la taxonomía para descubrir nuevas plantas medicinales, pueden aumentar la probabilidad de éxito de encontrar compuestos químicos activos en plantas, en comparación con las búsquedas aleatorias. A pesar de lo anterior, en las últimas décadas, la etnobotánica no ha cumplido con las expectativas de proveer numerosas plantas medicinales y químicos nuevos una vez examinados en el laboratorio. Cada año se describen una plétora de plantas medicinales y sus usos, sin embargo las limitaciones de tiempo y recursos en los laboratorios, unidos al alto coste de los ensayos clínicos de las drogas potenciales, hacen muy difícil probar, aislar, y elucidar la estructura y el mecanismo de los compuestos de estas plantas. Se propone un nuevo marco teórico cuantitativo cuyo fin es focalizar la búsqueda de nueva plantas medicinales. Este marco teórico está basado en la hipótesis que las plantas cercanamente relacionadas, usadas para tratar enfermedades cercanamente relacionadas en culturas distantemente relacionadas, tienen una eficacia potencial más alta, debido a que es más probable que estos hallazgos sean descubrimientos independientes de compuestos químicos similares. Parte de esta hipótesis, que las escogencias racionales se hacen para elegir plantas medicinales similares y que la flora medicinal de dos culturas distantes es más similar que su flora general, se probó usando métodos estadísticos de remuestreo con datos de campo de la comunidad Malinké de Malí y de la Asháninka de Perú, y las enfermedades de paludismo, enfermedad africana del sueño, enfermedad de Chagas, leishmania, diabetes, eczema, asma, y fibromas uterinos. Se encontró, en este caso, que la similitud de las floras medicinales es significativamente mayor a la similitud de las floras generales, solamente cuando las enfermedades analizadas se agruparon en las categorías de enfermedades parasitarias y enfermedades autoinmunes. Si se demostrara que las otras partes de esta hipótesis son ciertas, se podría sintetizar la información sobre plantas medicinales alrededor del mundo, para establecer así las plantas potencialmente más eficaces para llevarlas al laboratorio y analizarlas más profundamente.
French abstract
Par rapport aux recherches menées de façon aléatoire, les recherches effectuées par des critères ethnobotaniques et taxonomiques ont de meilleures chances à découvrir de nouvelles plantes médicinales à produit chimique actifs. Pendant les dernières décennies pourtant, l'ethnobotanique a réalisé peu de ces promesses à révéler un grand nombre de plantes médicinales et de nouveaux produits chimiques, testés au laboratoire. Avec les ressources limitées pour la recherche au laboratoire et le coût élevé des épreuves cliniques pour trouver de nouveaux candidats aux médicaments, il est difficile d'étudier, d'isoler et d'élucider la structure et le mécanisme des produits chimiques de chacune des nombreuses plantes médicinales (et les utilisations de ces plantes) décrites chaque année. Nous proposons une nouvelle technique théorique et quantitative pour préciser la recherche de nouvelles plantes médicinales; elle est basée sur l'hypothèse que les plantes étroitement apparentées, employées pour traiter les maladies étroitement apparentées dans les cultures très éloignées les unes des autres, ont une potentialité d'efficacité supérieure parce qu'elles représentent la découverte indépendante des propriétés chimiques semblables des plantes. Une partie de cette hypothèse-qui démontre que la sélection des plantes médicinales semblables est un choix rationnel et qu'il y a davantage de ressemblance dans la flore médicinale de deux cultures éloignées que dans leur flore générale-est examinée par un re-échantillonnage des données de recherches effectuées parmi les Malinké au Mali et les Asháninka au Pérou, en particulier sur la malaria, la maladie africaine du sommeil, la maladie de Chagas, la leishmania, le diabète, l'eczéma, l'asthme et les fibromes utérins. Dans ces cas précis, la similitude de la flore médicinale s'avère sensiblement plus grande que la similitude de la flore générale, mais seulement quand les maladies en question sont regroupées ensemble comme maladies parasitaires et auto-immunitaires. Si cette hypothèse est prouvée, elle permettra la synthèse des informations recueillies sur les plantes médicinales du monde entier pour en sélectionner de façon plus précise celles qui sont les plus efficaces et qui méritent analyse plus approfondie au laboratoire.
Asháninka abstract
Aayiantyarori iròpero aavintane, ontzimatye ancovacovatero ayotero ovaqueraripaye incashi iyoyetziri ashaninka, ayotzityaro aajatzi iyotane viracocha paitachari "quimica" ancantero aaca oshintsinka inchashipaye. Atziri yotacotzirori cametsa, ishtoriajacotzirori iyotane ashaninkapaye te iroñàrantero maaroni ocaratzi yamenacotaqueri laboratorioki. Aaviantyarori cametsa, ayotacotero aavintarontsiyetatsiri osamani antzimaventero ishtoriatacotaro, aajatzi osheki opinata ampinaventero aparopaye inchashi, acoviriqui ayotacotero, osaretsikipaye. Tzimatsi ovaquerari quenquishiriantsitatsiri ero opinata osheki ashitoriatacotero aparopaye inchashi, asampiyetatyrey pashinipaye atziri saicatsiri intaina puitarika inchasshi yavintari, ajatzirica oshiyaro ayotzi aaca, quemetachari atziri saikatsiri nampitsiki malinke aajatzi ishiyari ashaninka saicatsiri peruki, tzimatsi inchashi aajatzi yaavintari osheki okamètsatzi aririka anteri mantsiyarentsi icantaitziri ompetarentsi catsirentsi, pochokirentsi, patsarontsi(matatsi) ashipetate maaroni, ampochavathate, ancainikentsite, oncatsithakite tsinani. Aririka añaker aajatzi ahiyaro inchashi yaavintayetari pashinipaye atziri intainasatzi irdotake ahitoriatacoperoteri anàashityard aavintarontsi ovamairiri shithanentsi, onàshitaavintarontsi tzicaacoventairi ero antane mantsiyarentsi. Omanperotatyarica iròperotzi avintarontsi, oshitovake laboratorioki aritaque iyoitanaquero maaroni quipatsiki iroperori avintarontsi.
doi:10.1186/1746-4269-3-36
PMCID: PMC2248176  PMID: 18053260
13.  Modulation of autoimmune diseases by interleukin (IL)-17 producing regulatory T helper (Th17) cells 
Following the discovery of interleukin (IL)-17 producing T helper (Th17) cells as a distinct lineage of CD4+ T helper cells it became clear that these cells play an important role in the host defense against extracellular fungal and bacterial pathogens and participate in the pathogenesis of multiple inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Depending on the microenvironment, Th17 cells can alter their differentiation programme ultimately giving rise to either protective or pro-inflammatory pathogenic cells. We found that besides the conventional in vitro protocol for Th17 differentiation by transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) plus IL-6 cytokines, a combination of IL-23 plus IL-6 can also induce Th17 cells. The Th17 cells induced by IL-23 plus IL-6 (termed as effector Th17, Teff17 cells) are pathogenic upon adoptive transfer into non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice contributing to the development of type 1 diabetes (T1D) while cells induced by TGF-β plus IL-6 (termed as regulatory T cells, Treg17 cells) are non pathogenic and regulatory, and suppressed the pathogenic T cells in T1D. These cells differentially expressed a number of cytokines where Teff17 cells exhibited an increase in granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and IL-22 whereas Treg17 cells demonstrated increased expression of IL-21 and immunosuppressive cytokine IL-10. Differentiation of Th17 cells is controlled by a transcription factor, RORγT although these cells also express variable levels of T-bet and FoxP3 transcription factors. This points to a dual functional role of Th17 subsets in autoimmune diseases particularly T1D. We suggest that similar to conventional regulatory T cells (Treg), induction of regulatory Treg17 cells could play an important role in modulating and preventing certain autoimmune diseases.
PMCID: PMC3928692  PMID: 24434314
Autoimmunity; cytokines; immunoregulation; helper T cell plasticity; regulatory T cells; Th17 cells; Type 1 diabetes
14.  Does Vitamin D Affect Risk of Developing Autoimmune Disease?: A Systematic Review 
Seminars in arthritis and rheumatism  2010;40(6):512-531.e8.
Objectives
We evaluated the epidemiologic evidence that vitamin D may be related to human autoimmune disease risk.
Methods
PubMed limited to English from inception through April 2010 was searched using keywords: “vitamin D”, “autoimmune” and autoimmune disease names. We summarized in vitro, animal, and genetic association studies of vitamin D in autoimmune disease pathogenesis. We sorted studies by design and disease and performed a systematic review of: a) cross-sectional data concerning vitamin D level and autoimmune disease; b) interventional data on vitamin D supplementation in autoimmune diseases and c) prospective data linking vitamin D level or intake to autoimmune disease risk.
Results
Vitamin D has effects on innate and acquired immune systems and vitamin D receptor polymorphisms have been associated with various autoimmune diseases. In experimental animal models, vitamin D supplementation can prevent or forestall autoimmune disease. We identified 76 studies in which vitamin D levels were studied in autoimmune disease patients, particularly with active disease, and compared to controls. Nineteen observational or interventional studies assessed the effect of vitamin D supplementation as therapy for various autoimmune diseases (excluding psoriasis and vitiligo) with a range of study approaches and results. The few prospective human studies performed conflict as to whether vitamin D level or intake is associated with autoimmune disease risk. No interventional trials have investigated whether vitamin D affects human autoimmune disease risk.
Conclusions
Cross-sectional data point to a potential role of vitamin D in autoimmune disease prevention, but prospective interventional evidence in humans is still lacking.
doi:10.1016/j.semarthrit.2010.07.009
PMCID: PMC3098920  PMID: 21047669
vitamin D; autoimmune disease; intake; risk factor; epidemiology; systematic review
15.  Clonal Waves of Neisseria Colonisation and Disease in the African Meningitis Belt: Eight- Year Longitudinal Study in Northern Ghana 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(3):e101.
Background
The Kassena-Nankana District of northern Ghana lies in the African “meningitis belt” where epidemics of meningococcal meningitis have been reoccurring every eight to 12 years for the last 100 years. The dynamics of meningococcal colonisation and disease are incompletely understood, and hence we embarked on a long-term study to determine how levels of colonisation with different bacterial serogroups change over time, and how the patterns of disease relate to such changes.
Methods and Findings
Between February 1998 and November 2005, pharyngeal carriage of Neisseria meningitidis in the Kassena-Nankana District was studied by twice-yearly colonisation surveys. Meningococcal disease was monitored throughout the eight-year study period, and patient isolates were compared to the colonisation isolates. The overall meningococcal colonisation rate of the study population was 6.0%. All culture-confirmed patient isolates and the majority of carriage isolates were associated with three sequential waves of colonisation with encapsulated (A ST5, X ST751, and A ST7) meningococci. Compared to industrialised countries, the colonising meningococcal population was less constant in genotype composition over time and was genetically less diverse during the peaks of the colonisation waves, and a smaller proportion of the isolates was nonserogroupable. We observed a broad age range in the healthy carriers, resembling that of meningitis patients during large disease epidemics.
Conclusions
The observed lack of a temporally stable and genetically diverse resident pharyngeal flora of meningococci might contribute to the susceptibility to meningococcal disease epidemics of residents in the African meningitis belt. Because capsular conjugate vaccines are known to impact meningococcal carriage, effects on herd immunity and potential serogroup replacement should be monitored following the introduction of such vaccines.
An analysis of pharyngeal carriage of meningococci in one district of Ghana examined the features of the isolates that might contribute to the susceptibility to meningococcal epidemics in the African meningitis belt.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Bacterial meningitis is a rare but often fatal infection of the meninges—the thin membrane around the brain and the spinal cord. It can be caused by several types of bacteria, but meningococcal meningitis, which is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, is the most common form of bacterial meningitis in children and the second most common form in adults. About 10% of healthy people have N. meningitidis growing in their nose and throat; the bacteria are spread by exposure to infected respiratory secretions. In these “carriers,” the immune system keeps the bug in check but sometimes this surveillance fails, N. meningitidis enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain, where it infects the meninges and causes inflammation. The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis are sudden fever, headache, and a stiff neck and, even if strong antibiotics are given quickly, 10%–15% of patients die.
Why Was This Study Done?
Outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis occur all over the world, but the highest burden of disease is in the African meningitis belt, which stretches across sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia. Here, localized epidemics of meningococcal meningitis occur every eight to 12 years during the dry season. Control of these epidemics relies on their early detection followed by mass immunization. This approach can be hard to implement in countries with limited resources, but the introduction of other control measures (for example, routine childhood immunization) requires an understanding of how the spread of different strains of N. meningitides through the community causes periodic epidemics. In this study, the researchers have studied the long-term dynamics of colonization by N. meningitidis and the occurrence of meningococcal meningitis in one region of the African meningitis belt.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers took throat swabs twice a year from people living in rural northern Ghana for eight years. They tested each swab for N. meningitidis and determined the serogroup of the bacteria they found. Bacterial serogroups differ only in terms of the antigens (molecules recognized by the immune system) that they express; N. meningitidis is classified into 13 serogroups based on the sugars that coat its surface. The researchers also used DNA sequencing to group the bacterial isolates into genoclouds—genetically closely related groups of meningococci represented by a sequence type (ST) number. Finally, they monitored meningococcal disease throughout the study and determined the serogroup and genocloud of patient isolates. Their results show colonization of 6% of the study population by N. meningitidis and reveal three consecutive waves of colonization and disease characterized by the presence of a serogroup A ST5 genocloud, a serogroup X ST751 genocloud, and finally a serogroup A ST7 genocloud. Colonizing bacteria isolated in this study in Ghana, the researchers report, changed their genotype more frequently but were less genetically diverse than those isolated in industrialized countries. In addition, the commonest serogroups of N. meningitidis in carriers in Ghana were disease-causing serogroups, whereas in industrialized countries these serogroups are rarely seen in carriers. However, non-groupable bacteria (bacteria that lack surface sugars), although common in industrialized countries, were rare in Ghana.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings begin to explain why epidemics of meningococcal meningitis are common in the African meningitis belt. Because there isn't a stable, genetically diverse population of N. meningitidis in carriers, the immune systems of people living here may not be optimally prepared to deal with new bacterial clones that arrive in the region, and this lack of immunity could result in frequent epidemics. However, because the researchers took relatively few samples every six months from one small area of the meningitis belt, the genetic diversity of N. meningitidis over the whole region might be considerably greater than that colonizing the study population. Nevertheless, the description of successive waves of meningococci colonization in Ghana has important implications for the proposed introduction of childhood vaccination against meninogococcal disease in the African meningitis belt. If this vaccination program goes ahead, warn the researchers, it will be essential to monitor which strains of N. meningitidis are colonizing the population and to have emergency plans ready to deal with any emerging disease-causing serogroups that are not covered by the vaccine.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040101.
The Web sites of the institutions at which this research was performed, the Swiss Tropical Institute and the Navrongo Health Research Centre, provide more information about the programs
The World Health Organization provides information on meningococcal disease, including the African meningitis belt (in English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic)
Information on meningitis and vaccines and their potential use in Africa is available from the Meningitis Vaccine Project (in English and French)
Medline Plus has encyclopedia pages on meningococcal meningitis
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on meningococcal disease (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040101
PMCID: PMC1831736  PMID: 17388665
16.  Calcium and vitamin D in post menopausal women 
Calcium and Vitamin D are widely used therapies for Osteoporosis. Vitamin D is not a vitamin in true sense since it is produced in response to the action of sunlight on skin. Vitamin D has multiple roles in the body, not all of them well-understood. Vitamin D supplementation must be considered a form of hormone replacement therapy. Therefore it raises all the questions about efficacy, dose, and side effects. The Efficacy of use of Calcium and Vitamin D in all post menopausal women in terms of the prevention of fracture is uncertain. The Annual worldwide sales of these supplements have been several billion dollars. The variation of the results from various studies of Calcium and Vitamin D supplementation in elderly women suggest that benefit of calcium plus vitamin D on bone mineral density or the risk of fracture is small and may vary from group to group and baseline Vitamin D status. Women taking supplemental vitamin D and calcium have a statistically increased incidence of renal stones, according to evidence from the Women's Health Initiative. Studies have shown association between calcium use and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. In a recent review of evidence from 6 randomized trials evaluating the use of vitamin D and calcium to prevent fractures in postmenopausal women who are not living in a nursing home or other institution, the United States Preventive Task Force (USPTF) found no evidence of a benefit from supplementation with 400 IU or less of vitamin D3 and 1000 mg or less of calcium. Also in a report from institute of Medicine Committee, there was insufficient evidence, particularly from randomized trials, that vitamin D treatment affected the risk of non skeletal outcomes like risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infections, autoimmune disease, and other extra skeletal outcomes.
doi:10.4103/2230-8210.123549
PMCID: PMC4046613  PMID: 24910823
Calcium; post menopausal women; Vitamin D
17.  Antibody to Aquaporin 4 in the Diagnosis of Neuromyelitis Optica 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(4):e133.
Background
Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is a demyelinating disease of the central nervous system (CNS) of putative autoimmune aetiology. Early discrimination between multiple sclerosis (MS) and NMO is important, as optimum treatment for both diseases may differ considerably. Recently, using indirect immunofluorescence analysis, a new serum autoantibody (NMO-IgG) has been detected in NMO patients. The binding sites of this autoantibody were reported to colocalize with aquaporin 4 (AQP4) water channels. Thus we hypothesized that AQP4 antibodies in fact characterize NMO patients.
Methods and Findings
Based on these observations we cloned human water channel AQP4, expressed the protein in a eukaryotic transcription/translation system, and employed the recombinant AQP4 to establish a new radioimmunoprecipitation assay (RIPA). Indeed, application of this RIPA showed that antibodies against AQP4 exist in the majority of patients with NMO (n = 37; 21 positive) as well as in patients with isolated longitudinally extensive transverse myelitis (n = 6; six positive), corresponding to a sensitivity of 62.8% and a specificity of 98.3%. By contrast, AQP4 antibodies were virtually absent in 291 other participants, which included patients with MS (n = 144; four positive), patients with other inflammatory and noninflammatory neurological diseases (n = 73; one positive), patients with systemic autoimmune diseases (n = 45; 0 positive), and healthy participants (n = 29; 0 positive).
Conclusions
In the largest series reported so far to our knowledge, we quantified AQP4 antibodies in patients with NMO versus various other diseases, and showed that the aquaporin 4 water channel is a target antigen in a majority of patients with NMO. The newly developed assay represents a highly specific, observer-independent, and easily reproducible detection method facilitating clinically relevant discrimination between NMO, MS, and other inflammatory diseases.
A newly developed method to detect antibodies to the aquaporin 4 water channel can help discriminate between neuromyelitis optica, multiple sclerosis, and other inflammatory diseases.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Neuromyelitis optica (NMO or Devic syndrome) is a rare disease in which the immune system destroys the myelin (fatty material that insulates nerve fibers so that the body and the brain can communicate using electrical messages) in the optic nerve and spinal cord. Myelin destruction (demyelination) in these parts of the central nervous system (CNS) causes pain and swelling (inflammation) of the optic nerve (optic neuritis) and spinal cord (myelitis). The resultant disruption of communication along these nerves means that patients with NMO experience temporary or permanent blindness in one or both eyes that is preceded or followed by limb weakness or paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel control. These two sets of symptoms can occur many months apart and may happen once during a person's lifetime or recur at intervals. There is no cure for NMO, but corticosteroids or plasmapheresis reduce inflammation during acute attacks and, because NMO is an autoimmune disease (one in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues instead of foreign organisms), long-term immunosuppression may prevent further attacks.
Why Was This Study Done?
There are many inflammatory/demyelinating diseases of the CNS with clinical symptoms similar to those of NMO. It is particularly hard to distinguish between NMO and multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that involves widespread demyelination. Neurologists need to make a correct diagnosis before starting any treatment and usually use clinical examination and magnetic resonance imaging (to detect sites of inflammation) to help them in this task. Recently, however, a biomarker for NMO was identified. Many patients with NMO make autoantibodies (proteins that recognize a component of a person's own tissues) called NMO-IgGs. These recognize aquaporin 4 (AQP4), a protein that allows water to move through cell membranes. It is not known how often patients with NMO or other demyelinating diseases make antibodies to AQP4, so it is unclear whether testing for these antibodies would help in the diagnosis of NMO. In this study, the researchers have developed a new assay for antibodies to AQP4 and then quantified the antibodies in patients with NMO and other demyelinating diseases.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers made radioactively labeled AQP4 in a test tube, then incubated samples of this with serum (the liquid portion of blood), added small beads coated with protein A (a bacterial protein that binds to antibodies) and allowed the beads to settle. The amount of radioactivity attached to the beads indicates the amount of antibody to AQP4 in the original serum. The researchers used this radioimmunoprecipitation assay to measure antibodies to AQP4 in sera from 37 patients with NMO and from six with another neurological condition, longitudinally extensive transverse myelitis (LETM), which is characterized by large demyelinated lesions across the width of the spinal cord but no optic neuritis; these patients often develop NMO. They also measured antibodies to AQP4 in the sera of nearly 300 other people including patients with multiple sclerosis, other neurological conditions, various autoimmune diseases, and healthy individuals. Nearly two-thirds of the patients with NMO and all those with LETM made antibodies against AQP4; very few of the other study participants made these antibodies. In particular, only four of the 144 patients with multiple sclerosis made AQP4 antibodies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that testing for antibodies to AQP4 could help neurologists distinguish between NMO and multiple sclerosis and between NMO and other demyelinating diseases of the CNS. In addition, the new radioimmunoprecipitation assay provides a standardized, high-throughput way to quantitatively test for these antibodies, whereas the indirect immune fluorescence assay for measurement of unspecific NMO-IgG is observer-dependent and nonquantitative. Although these findings need to be confirmed in more patients and the assay's reliability demonstrated in different settings, the measurement of antibodies to AQP4 by radioimmunoprecipitation may become a standard part of the differential diagnosis of NMO. Additional research will determine whether AQP4 is the only protein targeted by autoantibodies in NMO and whether this targeting is a critical part of the disease process.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040133.
US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has information for patients who have neuromyelitis optica, transverse myelitis, and multiple sclerosis
The Transverse Myelitis Association offers information and useful links for patients and their carers about transverse myelitis and neuromyelitis optica (in several languages, including English and Spanish)
Mayo Clinic information for patients on Devic's syndrome
Medline Plus encyclopedia pages discuss autoimmune disorders (in English and Spanish)
A brief overview of aquaporins is available from the University of Miami
The American MS Society has information on MS
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040133
PMCID: PMC1852124  PMID: 17439296
18.  Vitamin K Supplementation in Postmenopausal Women with Osteopenia (ECKO Trial): A Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(10):1-12.
Background
Vitamin K has been widely promoted as a supplement for decreasing bone loss in postmenopausal women, but the long-term benefits and potential harms are unknown. This study was conducted to determine whether daily high-dose vitamin K1 supplementation safely reduces bone loss, bone turnover, and fractures.
Methods and Findings
This single-center study was designed as a 2-y randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial, extended for earlier participants for up to an additional 2 y because of interest in long-term safety and fractures. A total of 440 postmenopausal women with osteopenia were randomized to either 5 mg of vitamin K1 or placebo daily. Primary outcomes were changes in BMD at the lumbar spine and total hip at 2 y. Secondary outcomes included changes in BMD at other sites and other time points, bone turnover markers, height, fractures, adverse effects, and health-related quality of life. This study has a power of 90% to detect 3% differences in BMD between the two groups. The women in this study were vitamin D replete, with a mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of 77 nmol/l at baseline. Over 2 y, BMD decreased by −1.28% and −1.22% (p = 0.84) (difference of −0.06%; 95% confidence interval [CI] −0.67% to 0.54%) at the lumbar spine and −0.69% and −0.88% (p = 0.51) (difference of 0.19%; 95% CI −0.37% to 0.75%) at the total hip in the vitamin K and placebo groups, respectively. There were no significant differences in changes in BMD at any site between the two groups over the 2- to 4-y period. Daily vitamin K1 supplementation increased serum vitamin K1 levels by 10-fold, and decreased the percentage of undercarboxylated osteocalcin and total osteocalcin levels (bone formation marker). However, C-telopeptide levels (bone resorption marker) were not significantly different between the two groups. Fewer women in the vitamin K group had clinical fractures (nine versus 20, p = 0.04) and fewer had cancers (three versus 12, p = 0.02). Vitamin K supplements were well-tolerated over the 4-y period. There were no significant differences in adverse effects or health-related quality of life between the two groups. The study was not powered to examine fractures or cancers, and their numbers were small.
Conclusions
Daily 5 mg of vitamin K1 supplementation for 2 to 4 y does not protect against age-related decline in BMD, but may protect against fractures and cancers in postmenopausal women with osteopenia. More studies are needed to further examine the effect of vitamin K on fractures and cancers.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (#NCT00150969) and Current Controlled Trials (#ISRCTN61708241)
Angela Cheung and colleagues investigate whether vitamin K1 can prevent bone loss among postmenopausal women with osteopenia.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease in which the bones gradually become less dense and more likely to break. In the US, 10 million people have osteoporosis and 18 million have osteopenia, a milder condition that precedes osteoporosis. In both conditions, insufficient new bone is made and/or too much old bone is absorbed. Although bone appears solid and unchanging, very little bone in the human body is more than 10 y old. Old bone is continually absorbed and new bone built using calcium, phosphorous, and proteins. Because the sex hormones control calcium and phosphorous deposition in the bones and thus bone strength, the leading cause of osteoporosis in women is reduced estrogen levels after menopause. In men, an age-related decline in testosterone levels can cause osteoporosis. Most people discover they have osteoporosis only when they break a bone, but the condition can be diagnosed and monitored using bone mineral density (BMD) scans. Treatments can slow down or reverse bone loss (antiresorptive therapies) and some (bone formation therapies) can even make bone and build bone tissue.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although regular exercise and a healthy diet can help to keep bones strong, other ways of preventing osteoporosis are badly needed. Recently, the lay media has promoted vitamin K supplements as a way to reduce bone loss in postmenopausal women. Vitamin K (which is found mainly in leafy green vegetables) is required for a chemical modification of proteins called carboxylation. This modification is essential for the activity of three bone-building proteins. In addition, there is some evidence that low bone density and fractures are associated with a low vitamin K intake. However, little is known about the long-term benefits or harms of vitamin K supplements. In this study, the researchers investigate whether a high-dose daily vitamin K supplement can safely reduce bone loss, bone turnover, and fractures in postmenopausal women with osteopenia in a randomized controlled trial called the “Evaluation of the Clinical Use of Vitamin K Supplementation in Post-Menopausal Women With Osteopenia” (ECKO) trial.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In the study, 440 postmenopausal women with osteopenia were randomized to receive 5mg of vitamin K1 (the type of vitamin K in North American food; the recommended daily adult intake of vitamin K1 is about 0.1 mg) or an inactive tablet (placebo) daily for 2 y; 261 of the women continued their treatment for 2 y to gather information about the long-term effects of vitamin K1 supplementation. All the women had regular bone density scans of their lower back and hips and were examined for fractures and for changes in bone turnover. After 2 y and after 4 y, lower back and hip bone density measurements had decreased by similar amounts in both treatment groups. The women who took vitamin K1 had 10-fold higher amounts of vitamin K1 in their blood than the women who took placebo and lower amounts of a bone formation marker; the levels of a bone resorption marker were similar in both groups. Over the 4-y period, fewer women in the vitamin K group had fractures (nine versus 20 women in the placebo group), and fewer had cancer (three versus 12). Finally, vitamin K supplementation was well tolerated over the 4-y period and adverse health effects were similar in the two treatment groups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that a high daily dose of vitamin K1 provides no protection against the age-related decline in bone density in postmenopausal women with osteopenia, but that vitamin K1 supplementation may protect against fractures and cancers in these women. The apparent contradiction between the effects of vitamin K1 on bone density and on fractures could mean that vitamin K1 supplements strengthen bone by changing factors other than bone density, e.g., by changing its fine structure rather than making it denser. However, because so few study participants had fractures, the difference in the fracture rate between the two treatment groups might have occurred by chance. Larger studies are therefore needed to examine the effect of vitamin K1 on fractures (and on cancer) and, until these are done, high-dose vitamin K1 supplementation should not be recommended for the prevention of osteoporosis.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050196.
The US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases provides detailed information about osteoporosis (in English and Spanish) and links to other resources, including an interactive web tool called Check Up On Your Bones
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information about osteoporosis (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has a page about vitamin K
The UK Food Standards Agency provides information about vitamin K
Full details about the ECKO trial are available on the ClinicalTrials.gov Web site
The Canadian Task Force for Preventive Health Care provides recommendations on the prevention of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women
Osteoporosis Canada provides information on current topics related to osteoporosis
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050196
PMCID: PMC2566998  PMID: 18922041
19.  Organ-specific autoimmune diseases induced in mice by elimination of T cell subset. I. Evidence for the active participation of T cells in natural self-tolerance; deficit of a T cell subset as a possible cause of autoimmune disease 
Organ-specific autoimmune diseases such as oophoritis, gastritis, thyroiditis, and orchitis were induced in female or male nude (nu/nu) mice by the transfer of nu/+spleen cells from which particular Lyt T cell subset(s) had been removed: nu/+spleen cells treated with anti-Lyt- 1 plus complement (C) caused disease in recipient nude mice; anti-Lyt-2 plus C-treated spleen cells, in contrast, did not. The cells responsible for disease induction are believed to be Thy-1+, Lyt-1-, 2,3- (Thy-1, Lyt-1, 2,3), since spleen cells treated with mixed antisera, including anti-Lyt-1 and anti-Lyt-2, plus C, could induce the disease with almost the same incidence as anti-Lyt-1 plus C-treated cells (oophoritis 50%, gastritis 25%, thyroiditis 10-20%, and orchitis 40%). Cells treated with mixed antisera of anti-Thy-1, anti-Lyt-1, and anti-Lyt-2, plus C, could not induce autoimmune disease. Each induced autoimmune disease could be adoptively transferred to other nude mice via spleen cells, with resulting histological lesion of corresponding organs and development of specific circulating autoantibodies. Since anti-Thy-1 plus C treatment of donor spleen cells abrogated the capacity to transfer the disease, we conclude that T cells are required as effector cells, and that these may develop from Lyt-1-, 2,3- cells. Lyt-1+, 2,3- cells were demonstrated to have suppressive activity upon the development of the diseases; induction of autoimmunity was completely inhibited by the cotransfer of Lyt-1+, 2,3- cells with Lyt-1- , 2,3- cells. When anti-Lyt-2 plus C-treated cells (i.e., Lyt-1+, 2,3- and Lyt-1-, 2,3- cells) were mixed with anti-Lyt-1 and anti-Lyt-2 plus C-treated cells (i.e., Lyt-1-, 2,3- cells) in various ratios, then transferred to nude mice, the development of each autoimmune disease was clearly inhibited, even by small doses of Lyt-1+, 2,3- cells. The autoimmune disease we were able to induce was quite similar to human organ-specific autoimmune disease in terms of the spectrum of organs involved, histopathological features, and the development of autoantibodies to corresponding organ components (oocytes, parietal cells, thyroid colloid, including thyroglobulin, and sperm).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
PMCID: PMC2187548  PMID: 3871469
20.  Vitamin D and Chronic Kidney Disease 
Ethnicity & disease  2009;19(4 Suppl 5):S5-8-11.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an emerging public health problem and one of the most powerful predictors of premature cardiovascular disease. Emerging evidence suggests that the progression of CKD and many of the cardiovascular complications may be linked to hypovitaminosis D. Patients with CKD have an exceptionally high rate of severe vitamin D deficiency that is further exacerbated by the reduced ability to convert 25-(OH)vitamin D into the active form, 1,25 dihydroxy-vitamin D. As new evidence has improved our understanding of classical, as well as the non-classical, functions for vitamin D, it has become apparent that the autocrine role of vitamin D is an important modulator of several systems including the immune, renal and cardiovascular systems. In addition to the traditional supplementation of 1,25-vitamin D to CKD patients, by assessing and repleting 25-(OH)vitamin D deficiency, physicians will adequately fuel both the renal and extra-renal pathways of calcitriol synthesis maintaining the classical, as well as the non-classical, functions of vitamin D that ultimately influence clinical outcomes in this high-risk group of patients. Because of the high rates of hypovitaminosis D and progression of CKD to end-stage renal disease in minority populations, these findings are highly relevant to the national efforts to reduce health disparities. Healthcare providers are called to join the intensified efforts of public health officials to disseminate and implement updated guidelines and recommendations to halt the growing epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, particularly in high-risk populations.
PMCID: PMC2878736  PMID: 20077598
Vitamin D; Chronic Kidney Disease; Cardiovascular
21.  The Relationship Between Serum 25 Hydroxy Vitamin D Levels and Asthma in Children 
Purpose
Asthma and other allergic disorders have increased over the past decades in nearly all nations. Many studies have suggested the role of vitamin D deficiency in both T-helper1 and T-helper2 diseases; however, the association between vitamin D, allergy, and asthma remains uncertain. In this study, the associations of 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 levels with asthma and with the severity of asthma were evaluated.
Methods
This cross-sectional study was conducted on 50 asthmatic children and 50 healthy controls aged 6-18 years. Serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 levels were determined and compared between the two groups. The relationship between serum vitamin D levels and pulmonary function test outcomes and eosinophil counts were examined in asthmatic patients.
Results
Univariate analysis of the relationship between asthma and vitamin D showed that decreased vitamin D levels were associated with significantly increased odds of asthmatic state (P=0.002). In a multivariate analysis after adjustment for age, body mass index, and sex, the relationship between vitamin D and asthma increased. In asthmatic patients, 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels had direct and significant correlations with both predicted FEV1 (R2=0.318; P=0.024) and FEV1/FVC (R2=0.315; P=0.026). There were no associations between vitamin D level and eosinophil counts, duration of disease, and the number of hospitalization or unscheduled visits in the previous year (P>0.05).
Conclusions
These results showed that serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels were inversely associated with asthma, and there was a direct and significant relationship between vitamin D levels and pulmonary function test outcomes in asthmatic children. An interventional study in asthmatic patients with low serum vitamin D concentration may establish a causal relationship between asthma and vitamin D.
doi:10.4168/aair.2011.3.4.251
PMCID: PMC3178823  PMID: 21966605
Asthma; vitamin D; allergy
22.  Systems biology-based analysis implicates a novel role for vitamin D metabolism in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration 
Human Genomics  2011;5(6):538-568.
Vitamin D has been shown to have anti-angiogenic properties and to play a protective role in several types of cancer, including breast, prostate and cutaneous melanoma. Similarly, vitamin D levels have been shown to be protective for risk of a number of conditions, including cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease, as well as numerous autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel diseases and type 1 diabetes mellitus. A study performed by Parekh et al. was the first to suggest a role for vitamin D in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and showed a correlation between reduced serum vitamin D levels and risk for early AMD. Based on this study and the protective role of vitamin D in diseases with similar pathophysiology to AMD, we examined the role of vitamin D in a family-based cohort of 481 sibling pairs. Using extremely phenotypically discordant sibling pairs, initially we evaluated the association of neovascular AMD and vitamin D/sunlight-related epidemiological factors. After controlling for established AMD risk factors, including polymorphisms of the genes encoding complement factor H (CFH) and age-related maculopathy susceptibility 2/HtrA serine peptidase (ARMS2/HTRA1), and smoking history, we found that ultraviolet irradiance was protective for the development of neovascular AMD (p = 0.001). Although evaluation of serum vitamin D levels (25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D]) was higher in unaffected individuals than in their affected siblings, this finding did not reach statistical significance.
Based on the relationship between ultraviolet irradiance and vitamin D production, we employed a candidate gene approach for evaluating common variation in key vitamin D pathway genes (the genes encoding the vitamin D receptor [VDR]; cytochrome P450, family 27, subfamily B, polypeptide 1 [CYP27B1]; cytochrome P450, family 24, subfamily A, polypeptide 1 [CYP24A1]; and CYP27A1) in this same family-based cohort. Initial findings were then validated and replicated in the extended family cohort, an unrelated case-control cohort from central Greece and a prospective nested case-control population from the Nurse's Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Studies, which included patients with all subtypes of AMD for a total of 2,528 individuals. Single point variants in CYP24A1 (the gene encoding the catabolising enzyme of the vitamin D pathway) were demonstrated to influence AMD risk after controlling for smoking history, sex and age in all populations, both separately and, more importantly, in a meta-analysis. This is the first report demonstrating a genetic association between vitamin D metabolism and AMD risk. These findings were also supplemented with expression data from human donor eyes and human retinal cell lines. These data not only extend previous biological studies in the AMD field, but further emphasise common antecedents between several disorders with an inflammatory/immunogenic component such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and AMD.
doi:10.1186/1479-7364-5-6-538
PMCID: PMC3525248  PMID: 22155603
vitamin D; age-related macular degeneration
23.  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
Background
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.
Conclusions
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
Background
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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596.
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)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596
PMCID: PMC3904844  PMID: 24492409
24.  Dietary antioxidants and magnesium in type 1 brittle asthma: a case control study 
Thorax  1999;54(2):115-118.
BACKGROUND—Type 1 brittle asthma is a rare form of asthma. Atopy, psychosocial factors and diet may contribute to this condition. As increased dietary magnesium has a beneficial effect on lung function and selenium, vitamins A, C and E have antioxidant properties, a study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that patients with brittle asthma have diets deficient in these nutrients compared with subjects with non-brittle asthma and healthy adults.
METHODS—A case control study of the dietary intakes of 20 subjects with brittle asthma, 20 with non-brittle asthma, and 20 healthy adults was performed using five day weighed dietary records. Intake of magnesium was the primary outcome measure with selenium and vitamins A, C and E as secondary outcomes. Serum levels were measured at the same time as the dietary assessment.
RESULTS—Sixty subjects (27 men) of mean age 49.5 years were recruited and completed the study. Subjects with brittle asthma had statistically lower median dietary intakes of vitamins A and E than the other groups (vitamin A: brittle asthma 522.5 µg/day, non-brittle asthma 869.5 µg/day, healthy adults 806.5 µg/day; vitamin E: brittle asthma 4.3 mg/day, non-brittle asthma 4.6 mg/day, healthy adults 4.5 mg/day). Median dietary intakes for the other nutrients were not significantly different between groups. Serum levels were within normal ranges for each nutrient in all subjects. Intakes less than the reference nutrient intake (RNI) for magnesium and vitamins A and C, and less than the safe intake (SI) for vitamin E were more likely in patients with brittle asthma than in those with non-brittle asthma.
CONCLUSION—Nutrient deficiency and reduced antioxidant activity may contribute to disease activity in type 1 brittle asthma, although a prospective study of replacement therapy will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.


PMCID: PMC1745426  PMID: 10325914
25.  On the Use of Human Mobility Proxies for Modeling Epidemics 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(7):e1003716.
Human mobility is a key component of large-scale spatial-transmission models of infectious diseases. Correctly modeling and quantifying human mobility is critical for improving epidemic control, but may be hindered by data incompleteness or unavailability. Here we explore the opportunity of using proxies for individual mobility to describe commuting flows and predict the diffusion of an influenza-like-illness epidemic. We consider three European countries and the corresponding commuting networks at different resolution scales, obtained from (i) official census surveys, (ii) proxy mobility data extracted from mobile phone call records, and (iii) the radiation model calibrated with census data. Metapopulation models defined on these countries and integrating the different mobility layers are compared in terms of epidemic observables. We show that commuting networks from mobile phone data capture the empirical commuting patterns well, accounting for more than 87% of the total fluxes. The distributions of commuting fluxes per link from mobile phones and census sources are similar and highly correlated, however a systematic overestimation of commuting traffic in the mobile phone data is observed. This leads to epidemics that spread faster than on census commuting networks, once the mobile phone commuting network is considered in the epidemic model, however preserving to a high degree the order of infection of newly affected locations. Proxies' calibration affects the arrival times' agreement across different models, and the observed topological and traffic discrepancies among mobility sources alter the resulting epidemic invasion patterns. Results also suggest that proxies perform differently in approximating commuting patterns for disease spread at different resolution scales, with the radiation model showing higher accuracy than mobile phone data when the seed is central in the network, the opposite being observed for peripheral locations. Proxies should therefore be chosen in light of the desired accuracy for the epidemic situation under study.
Author Summary
The spatial dissemination of a directly transmitted infectious disease in a population is driven by population movements from one region to another allowing mixing and importation. Public health policy and planning may thus be more accurate if reliable descriptions of population movements can be considered in the epidemic evaluations. Next to census data, generally available in developed countries, alternative solutions can be found to describe population movements where official data is missing. These include mobility models, such as the radiation model, and the analysis of mobile phone activity records providing individual geo-temporal information. Here we explore to what extent mobility proxies, such as mobile phone data or mobility models, can effectively be used in epidemic models for influenza-like-illnesses and how they compare to official census data. By focusing on three European countries, we find that phone data matches the commuting patterns reported by census well but tends to overestimate the number of commuters, leading to a faster diffusion of simulated epidemics. The order of infection of newly infected locations is however well preserved, whereas the pattern of epidemic invasion is captured with higher accuracy by the radiation model for centrally seeded epidemics and by phone proxy for peripherally seeded epidemics.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003716
PMCID: PMC4091706  PMID: 25010676

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