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1.  Correction: Transcriptional Profiling of Serogroup B Neisseria meningitidis Growing in Human Blood: An Approach to Vaccine Antigen Discovery 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):10.1371/annotation/e273e6f2-2a07-407a-8162-e2547661c192.
PMCID: PMC3471976
2.  Mapping cis- and trans-regulatory effects across multiple tissues in twins 
Nature genetics  2012;44(10):1084-1089.
Sequence-based variation in gene expression is a key driver of disease risk. Common variants regulating expression in cis have been mapped in many eQTL studies typically in single tissues from unrelated individuals. Here, we present a comprehensive analysis of gene expression across multiple tissues conducted in a large set of mono- and dizygotic twins that allows systematic dissection of genetic (cis and trans) and non-genetic effects on gene expression. Using identity-by-descent estimates, we show that at least 40% of the total heritable cis-effect on expression cannot be accounted for by common cis-variants, a finding which exposes the contribution of low frequency and rare regulatory variants with respect to both transcriptional regulation and complex trait susceptibility. We show that a substantial proportion of gene expression heritability is trans to the structural gene and identify several replicating trans-variants which act predominantly in a tissue-restricted manner and may regulate the transcription of many genes.
PMCID: PMC3784328  PMID: 22941192
3.  Genome-wide association study in people of South Asian ancestry identifies six novel susceptibility loci for type 2 diabetes 
Nature genetics  2011;43(10):984-989.
We carried out a genome wide association study of type-2 diabetes (T2D) amongst 20,119 people of South Asian ancestry (5,561 with T2D); we identified 20 independent SNPs associated with T2D at P<10−4 for testing amongst a further 38,568 South Asians (13,170 with T2D). In combined analysis, common genetic variants at six novel loci (GRB14, ST6GAL1, VPS26A, HMG20A, AP3S2 and HNF4A) were associated with T2D (P=4.1×10−8 to P=1.9×10−11); SNPs at GRB14 were also associated with insulin sensitivity, and at ST6GAL1 and HNF4A with pancreatic beta-cell function respectively. Our findings provide additional insight into mechanisms underlying T2D, and demonstrate the potential for new discovery from genetic association studies in South Asians who have increased susceptibility to T2D.
PMCID: PMC3773920  PMID: 21874001
4.  Gene expression changes with age in skin, adipose tissue, blood and brain 
Genome Biology  2013;14(7):R75.
Previous studies have demonstrated that gene expression levels change with age. These changes are hypothesized to influence the aging rate of an individual. We analyzed gene expression changes with age in abdominal skin, subcutaneous adipose tissue and lymphoblastoid cell lines in 856 female twins in the age range of 39-85 years. Additionally, we investigated genotypic variants involved in genotype-by-age interactions to understand how the genomic regulation of gene expression alters with age.
Using a linear mixed model, differential expression with age was identified in 1,672 genes in skin and 188 genes in adipose tissue. Only two genes expressed in lymphoblastoid cell lines showed significant changes with age. Genes significantly regulated by age were compared with expression profiles in 10 brain regions from 100 postmortem brains aged 16 to 83 years. We identified only one age-related gene common to the three tissues. There were 12 genes that showed differential expression with age in both skin and brain tissue and three common to adipose and brain tissues.
Skin showed the most age-related gene expression changes of all the tissues investigated, with many of the genes being previously implicated in fatty acid metabolism, mitochondrial activity, cancer and splicing. A significant proportion of age-related changes in gene expression appear to be tissue-specific with only a few genes sharing an age effect in expression across tissues. More research is needed to improve our understanding of the genetic influences on aging and the relationship with age-related diseases.
PMCID: PMC4054017  PMID: 23889843
Aging; gene expression; skin; adipose; brain; microarrays
5.  Meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies identifies 8 new loci for type 2 diabetes in East Asians 
Nature genetics  2011;44(1):67-72.
We conducted a three-stage genetic study to identify susceptibility loci for type 2 diabetes (T2D) in East Asian populations. The first stage meta-analysis of eight T2D genome-wide association studies (6,952 cases and 11,865 controls) was followed by a second stage in silico replication analysis (5,843 cases and 4,574 controls) and a stage 3 de novo replication analysis (12,284 cases and 13,172 controls). The combined analysis identified eight new T2D loci reaching genome-wide significance, which were mapped in or near GLIS3, PEPD, FITM2-R3HDML-HNF4A, KCNK16, MAEA, GCC1-PAX4, PSMD6 and ZFAND3. GLIS3, involved in pancreatic beta cell development and insulin gene expression1,2, is known for its association with fasting glucose levels3,4. The evidence of T2D association for PEPD5 and HNF4A6,7 has been detected in previous studies. KCNK16 may regulate glucose-dependent insulin secretion in the pancreas. These findings derived from East Asians provide new perspectives on the etiology of T2D.
PMCID: PMC3582398  PMID: 22158537
6.  The Presence of Methylation Quantitative Trait Loci Indicates a Direct Genetic Influence on the Level of DNA Methylation in Adipose Tissue 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55923.
Genetic variants that associate with DNA methylation at CpG sites (methylation quantitative trait loci, meQTLs) offer a potential biological mechanism of action for disease associated SNPs. We investigated whether meQTLs exist in abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and if CpG methylation associates with metabolic syndrome (MetSyn) phenotypes. We profiled 27,718 genomic regions in abdominal SAT samples of 38 unrelated individuals using differential methylation hybridization (DMH) together with genotypes at 5,227,243 SNPs and expression of 17,209 mRNA transcripts. Validation and replication of significant meQTLs was pursued in an independent cohort of 181 female twins. We find that, at 5% false discovery rate, methylation levels of 149 DMH regions associate with at least one SNP in a ±500 kilobase cis-region in our primary study. We sought to validate 19 of these in the replication study and find that five of these significantly associate with the corresponding meQTL SNPs from the primary study. We find that none of the 149 meQTL top SNPs is a significant expression quantitative trait locus in our expression data, but we observed association between expression levels of two mRNA transcripts and cis-methylation status. Our results indicate that DNA CpG methylation in abdominal SAT is partly under genetic control. This study provides a starting point for future investigations of DNA methylation in adipose tissue.
PMCID: PMC3576415  PMID: 23431366
7.  Extent, Causes, and Consequences of Small RNA Expression Variation in Human Adipose Tissue 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(5):e1002704.
Small RNAs are functional molecules that modulate mRNA transcripts and have been implicated in the aetiology of several common diseases. However, little is known about the extent of their variability within the human population. Here, we characterise the extent, causes, and effects of naturally occurring variation in expression and sequence of small RNAs from adipose tissue in relation to genotype, gene expression, and metabolic traits in the MuTHER reference cohort. We profiled the expression of 15 to 30 base pair RNA molecules in subcutaneous adipose tissue from 131 individuals using high-throughput sequencing, and quantified levels of 591 microRNAs and small nucleolar RNAs. We identified three genetic variants and three RNA editing events. Highly expressed small RNAs are more conserved within mammals than average, as are those with highly variable expression. We identified 14 genetic loci significantly associated with nearby small RNA expression levels, seven of which also regulate an mRNA transcript level in the same region. In addition, these loci are enriched for variants significant in genome-wide association studies for body mass index. Contrary to expectation, we found no evidence for negative correlation between expression level of a microRNA and its target mRNAs. Trunk fat mass, body mass index, and fasting insulin were associated with more than twenty small RNA expression levels each, while fasting glucose had no significant associations. This study highlights the similar genetic complexity and shared genetic control of small RNA and mRNA transcripts, and gives a quantitative picture of small RNA expression variation in the human population.
Author Summary
Genetic information is transmitted to the cell only through RNA molecules. A special class of RNAs is comprised of the small (up to 30 nucleotide) ones, known to be potent regulators of various cellular processes. At the same time, they have not been as widely studied as messenger RNAs—we do not know how much variation in their sequence and expression level occurs naturally in human populations or how this variability influences other traits. We measured small RNA levels and genetic variability in fat tissue from 131 individuals by high-throughput sequencing. We could associate the expression levels with genetic background of the individuals, as well as changes in metabolic traits. Surprisingly, we found no large scale influence of small RNA variation on mRNA levels, their main regulatory target. Overall, our study is the first to give a quantitative picture of the naturally occurring variation in these important regulatory molecules in human fat tissue.
PMCID: PMC3349731  PMID: 22589741
8.  Identification of an imprinted master trans-regulator at the KLF14 locus related to multiple metabolic phenotypes 
Nature genetics  2011;43(6):561-564.
Genome-wide association studies have identified many genetic variants associated with complex traits. However, at only a minority of loci have the molecular mechanisms mediating these associations been characterized. In parallel, whilst cis-regulatory patterns of gene expression have been extensively explored, the identification of trans-regulatory effects in humans has attracted less attention. We demonstrate that the Type 2 diabetes and HDL-cholesterol associated cis-acting eQTL of the maternally-expressed transcription factor KLF14 acts as a master trans-regulator of adipose gene expression. Expression levels of genes regulated by this trans-eQTL are highly-correlated with concurrently-measured metabolic traits, and a subset of the trans-genes harbor variants directly-associated with metabolic phenotypes. This trans-eQTL network provides a mechanistic understanding of the effect of the KLF14 locus on metabolic disease risk, providing a potential model for other complex traits.
PMCID: PMC3192952  PMID: 21572415
9.  Eight Common Genetic Variants Associated with Serum DHEAS Levels Suggest a Key Role in Ageing Mechanisms 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(4):e1002025.
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS) is the most abundant circulating steroid secreted by adrenal glands—yet its function is unknown. Its serum concentration declines significantly with increasing age, which has led to speculation that a relative DHEAS deficiency may contribute to the development of common age-related diseases or diminished longevity. We conducted a meta-analysis of genome-wide association data with 14,846 individuals and identified eight independent common SNPs associated with serum DHEAS concentrations. Genes at or near the identified loci include ZKSCAN5 (rs11761528; p = 3.15×10−36), SULT2A1 (rs2637125; p = 2.61×10−19), ARPC1A (rs740160; p = 1.56×10−16), TRIM4 (rs17277546; p = 4.50×10−11), BMF (rs7181230; p = 5.44×10−11), HHEX (rs2497306; p = 4.64×10−9), BCL2L11 (rs6738028; p = 1.72×10−8), and CYP2C9 (rs2185570; p = 2.29×10−8). These genes are associated with type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, actin filament assembly, drug and xenobiotic metabolism, and zinc finger proteins. Several SNPs were associated with changes in gene expression levels, and the related genes are connected to biological pathways linking DHEAS with ageing. This study provides much needed insight into the function of DHEAS.
Author Summary
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), mainly secreted by the adrenal gland, is the most abundant circulating steroid in humans. It shows a significant physiological decline after the age of 25 and diminishes about 95% by the age of 85 years, which has led to speculation that a relative DHEAS deficiency may contribute to the development of common age-related diseases or diminished longevity. Twin- and family-based studies have shown that there is a substantial genetic effect with heritability estimate of 60%, but no specific genes regulating serum DHEAS concentration have been identified to date. Here we take advantage of recent technical and methodological advances to examine the effects of common genetic variants on serum DHEAS concentrations. By examining 14,846 Caucasian individuals, we show that eight common genetic variants are associated with serum DHEAS concentrations. Genes at or near these genetic variants include BCL2L11, ARPC1A, ZKSCAN5, TRIM4, HHEX, CYP2C9, BMF, and SULT2A1. These genes have various associations with steroid hormone metabolism—co-morbidities of ageing including type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, actin filament assembly, drug and xenobiotic metabolism, and zinc finger proteins—suggesting a wider functional role for DHEAS than previously thought.
PMCID: PMC3077384  PMID: 21533175
10.  The Architecture of Gene Regulatory Variation across Multiple Human Tissues: The MuTHER Study 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(2):e1002003.
While there have been studies exploring regulatory variation in one or more tissues, the complexity of tissue-specificity in multiple primary tissues is not yet well understood. We explore in depth the role of cis-regulatory variation in three human tissues: lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL), skin, and fat. The samples (156 LCL, 160 skin, 166 fat) were derived simultaneously from a subset of well-phenotyped healthy female twins of the MuTHER resource. We discover an abundance of cis-eQTLs in each tissue similar to previous estimates (858 or 4.7% of genes). In addition, we apply factor analysis (FA) to remove effects of latent variables, thus more than doubling the number of our discoveries (1,822 eQTL genes). The unique study design (Matched Co-Twin Analysis—MCTA) permits immediate replication of eQTLs using co-twins (93%–98%) and validation of the considerable gain in eQTL discovery after FA correction. We highlight the challenges of comparing eQTLs between tissues. After verifying previous significance threshold-based estimates of tissue-specificity, we show their limitations given their dependency on statistical power. We propose that continuous estimates of the proportion of tissue-shared signals and direct comparison of the magnitude of effect on the fold change in expression are essential properties that jointly provide a biologically realistic view of tissue-specificity. Under this framework we demonstrate that 30% of eQTLs are shared among the three tissues studied, while another 29% appear exclusively tissue-specific. However, even among the shared eQTLs, a substantial proportion (10%–20%) have significant differences in the magnitude of fold change between genotypic classes across tissues. Our results underline the need to account for the complexity of eQTL tissue-specificity in an effort to assess consequences of such variants for complex traits.
Author Summary
Regulation of gene expression is a fundamental cellular process determining a large proportion of the phenotypic variance. Previous studies have identified genetic loci influencing gene expression levels (eQTLs), but the complexity of their tissue-specific properties has not yet been well-characterized. In this study, we perform cis-eQTL analysis in a unique matched co-twin design for three human tissues derived simultaneously from the same set of individuals. The study design allows validation of the substantial discoveries we make in each tissue. We explore in depth the tissue-dependent features of regulatory variants and estimate the proportions of shared and specific effects. We use continuous measures of eQTL sharing to circumvent the statistical power limitations of comparing direct overlap of eQTLs in multiple tissues. In this framework, we demonstrate that 30% of eQTLs are shared among tissues, while 29% are exclusively tissue-specific. Furthermore, we show that the fold change in expression between eQTL genotypic classes differs between tissues. Even among shared eQTLs, we report a substantial proportion (10%–20%) of significant tissue differences in magnitude of these effects. The complexities we highlight here are essential for understanding the impact of regulatory variants on complex traits.
PMCID: PMC3033383  PMID: 21304890

Results 1-10 (10)