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1.  Genetic interactions affecting human gene expression identified by variance association mapping 
eLife  2014;3:e01381.
Non-additive interaction between genetic variants, or epistasis, is a possible explanation for the gap between heritability of complex traits and the variation explained by identified genetic loci. Interactions give rise to genotype dependent variance, and therefore the identification of variance quantitative trait loci can be an intermediate step to discover both epistasis and gene by environment effects (GxE). Using RNA-sequence data from lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) from the TwinsUK cohort, we identify a candidate set of 508 variance associated SNPs. Exploiting the twin design we show that GxE plays a role in ∼70% of these associations. Further investigation of these loci reveals 57 epistatic interactions that replicated in a smaller dataset, explaining on average 4.3% of phenotypic variance. In 24 cases, more variance is explained by the interaction than their additive contributions. Using molecular phenotypes in this way may provide a route to uncovering genetic interactions underlying more complex traits.
eLife digest
Every person has two copies of each gene: one is inherited from their mother and the other from their father. These two copies are often not identical because there can be many different variants of the same gene in the human population. Traits (such as height, body mass and risk of disease) vary from one person to the next—and for many traits this variation depends in part on the different gene variants that each person has inherited. Studies seeking to find the differences in DNA that can predict this variation have often assumed that the changes in DNA act on traits independently of the effect of environment and of other genetic variants.
In contrast, studies with animals have shown that some genetic variants can interact to produce a bigger (or smaller) effect than would be expected from simply ‘adding together’ their individual effects—a phenomenon called epistasis. But how much does epistasis contribute to variation in human traits, if at all? This question has been much disputed, and is difficult to test, not least because of the sheer number of interactions to assess: tens of millions of changes in DNA have been observed in the human genome, and so there are many more than billions of possible combinations of these changes to investigate.
Here, Brown et al. have examined the sequences of all the genes that were expressed in cells taken from a cohort of twins and searched for genetic variants that show these epistatic interactions. By studying gene expression, which can be greatly affected by small changes in the DNA code, Brown et al. were able to identify 508 variants that had a bigger than expected effect on the level of gene expression. This may be a sign that these variants act in combinations: if within one genome a variant increased expression and in another it decreased expression, then this would cause greater variation in gene expression. Further investigation of these 508 variants led to the discovery of 256 examples of epistasis, and 57 of these were replicated in samples from another cohort. Brown et al. calculated that these epistatic interactions explained up to 16% of the variation in gene expression. Furthermore, as well as being involved in epistatic interactions, about 70% of the genetic variants that had an effect on the variation in gene expression were also involved in interactions between genes and the environment.
In addition to showing that epistasis contributes to variation in human traits, the work of Brown et al. could help to uncover interactions behind complex traits—beyond the expression level of a gene—that could not previously be investigated.
PMCID: PMC4017648  PMID: 24771767
gene expression; epistasis; gene-environment interactions; human
2.  Interrogating causal pathways linking genetic variants, small molecule metabolites, and circulating lipids 
Genome Medicine  2014;6(3):25.
Emerging technologies based on mass spectrometry or nuclear magnetic resonance enable the monitoring of hundreds of small metabolites from tissues or body fluids. Profiling of metabolites can help elucidate causal pathways linking established genetic variants to known disease risk factors such as blood lipid traits.
We applied statistical methodology to dissect causal relationships between single nucleotide polymorphisms, metabolite concentrations, and serum lipid traits, focusing on 95 genetic loci reproducibly associated with the four main serum lipids (total-, low-density lipoprotein-, and high-density lipoprotein- cholesterol and triglycerides). The dataset used included 2,973 individuals from two independent population-based cohorts with data for 151 small molecule metabolites and four main serum lipids. Three statistical approaches, namely conditional analysis, Mendelian randomization, and structural equation modeling, were compared to investigate causal relationship at sets of a single nucleotide polymorphism, a metabolite, and a lipid trait associated with one another.
A subset of three lipid-associated loci (FADS1, GCKR, and LPA) have a statistically significant association with at least one main lipid and one metabolite concentration in our data, defining a total of 38 cross-associated sets of a single nucleotide polymorphism, a metabolite and a lipid trait. Structural equation modeling provided sufficient discrimination to indicate that the association of a single nucleotide polymorphism with a lipid trait was mediated through a metabolite at 15 of the 38 sets, and involving variants at the FADS1 and GCKR loci.
These data provide a framework for evaluating the causal role of components of the metabolome (or other intermediate factors) in mediating the association between established genetic variants and diseases or traits.
PMCID: PMC4062056  PMID: 24678845
3.  The Rate of Nonallelic Homologous Recombination in Males Is Highly Variable, Correlated between Monozygotic Twins and Independent of Age 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004195.
Nonallelic homologous recombination (NAHR) between highly similar duplicated sequences generates chromosomal deletions, duplications and inversions, which can cause diverse genetic disorders. Little is known about interindividual variation in NAHR rates and the factors that influence this. We estimated the rate of deletion at the CMT1A-REP NAHR hotspot in sperm DNA from 34 male donors, including 16 monozygotic (MZ) co-twins (8 twin pairs) aged 24 to 67 years old. The average NAHR rate was 3.5×10−5 with a seven-fold variation across individuals. Despite good statistical power to detect even a subtle correlation, we observed no relationship between age of unrelated individuals and the rate of NAHR in their sperm, likely reflecting the meiotic-specific origin of these events. We then estimated the heritability of deletion rate by calculating the intraclass correlation (ICC) within MZ co-twins, revealing a significant correlation between MZ co-twins (ICC = 0.784, p = 0.0039), with MZ co-twins being significantly more correlated than unrelated pairs. We showed that this heritability cannot be explained by variation in PRDM9, a known regulator of NAHR, or variation within the NAHR hotspot itself. We also did not detect any correlation between Body Mass Index (BMI), smoking status or alcohol intake and rate of NAHR. Our results suggest that other, as yet unidentified, genetic or environmental factors play a significant role in the regulation of NAHR and are responsible for the extensive variation in the population for the probability of fathering a child with a genomic disorder resulting from a pathogenic deletion.
Author Summary
Many genetic disorders are caused by deletions of specific regions of DNA in sperm or egg cells that go on to produce a child. This can occur through ectopic homologous recombination between highly similar segments of DNA at different positions within the genome. Little is known about the differences in rates of deletion between individuals or the factors that influence this. We analysed the rate of deletion at one such section of DNA in sperm DNA from 34 male donors, including 16 monozygotic co-twins. We observed a seven-fold variation in deletion rate across individuals. Deletion rate is significantly correlated between monozygote co-twins, indicating that deletion rate is heritable. This heritability cannot be explained by age, any known genetic regulator of deletion rate, Body Mass Index, smoking status or alcohol intake. Our results suggest that other, as yet unidentified, genetic or environmental factors play a significant role in the regulation of deletion. These factors are responsible for the extensive variation in the population for the probability of fathering a child with a genomic disorder resulting from a pathogenic deletion.
PMCID: PMC3945173  PMID: 24603440
4.  A genome-wide association study of intra-ocular pressure suggests a novel association in the gene FAM125B in the TwinsUK cohort 
Human Molecular Genetics  2014;23(12):3343-3348.
Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness in the world. To date, common genetic variants associated with glaucoma only explain a small proportion of its heritability. We performed a genome-wide association study of intra-ocular pressure (IOP), an underlying endophenotype for glaucoma. The discovery phase of the study was carried out in the TwinsUK cohort (N = 2774) analyzing association between IOP and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) imputed to HapMap2. The results were validated in 12 independent replication cohorts of European ancestry (combined N = 22 789) that were a part of the International Glaucoma Genetics Consortium. Expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) analyses of the significantly associated SNPs were performed using data from the Multiple Tissue Human Expression Resource (MuTHER) Study. In the TwinsUK cohort, IOP was significantly associated with a number of SNPs at 9q33.3 (P = 3.48 × 10−8 for rs2286885, the most significantly associated SNP at this locus), within the genomic sequence of the FAM125B gene. Independent replication in a composite panel of 12 cohorts revealed consistent direction of effect and significant association (P = 0.003, for fixed-effect meta-analysis). Suggestive evidence for an eQTL effect of rs2286885 was observed for one of the probes targeting the coding region of the FAM125B gene. This gene codes for a component of a membrane complex involved in vesicular trafficking process, a function similar to that of the Caveolin genes (CAV1 and CAV2) which have previously been associated with primary open-angle glaucoma. This study suggests a novel association between SNPs in FAM125B and IOP in the TwinsUK cohort, though further studies to elucidate the functional role of this gene in glaucoma are necessary.
PMCID: PMC4030784  PMID: 24518671
5.  Human metabolic individuality in biomedical and pharmaceutical research 
Nature  2011;477(7362):10.1038/nature10354.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified many risk loci for complex diseases, but effect sizes are typically small and information on the underlying biological processes is often lacking. Associations with metabolic traits as functional intermediates can overcome these problems and potentially inform individualized therapy. Here we report a comprehensive analysis of genotype-dependent metabolic phenotypes using a GWAS with non-targeted metabolomics. We identified 37 genetic loci associated with blood metabolite concentrations, of which 25 exhibit effect sizes that are unusually high for GWAS and account for 10-60% of metabolite levels per allele copy. Our associations provide new functional insights for many disease-related associations that have been reported in previous studies, including cardiovascular and kidney disorders, type 2 diabetes, cancer, gout, venous thromboembolism, and Crohn’s disease. Taken together our study advances our knowledge of the genetic basis of metabolic individuality in humans and generates many new hypotheses for biomedical and pharmaceutical research.
PMCID: PMC3832838  PMID: 21886157
6.  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
7.  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
8.  Methodological challenges of genome-wide association analysis in Africa 
Nature reviews. Genetics  2010;11(2):149-160.
Medical research in Africa has yet to benefit from the advent of genome-wide association (GWA) analysis, partly because the genotyping tools and statistical methods that have been developed for European and Asian populations struggle to deal with the high levels of genome diversity and population structure in Africa. However, the haplotypic diversity of African populations might help to overcome one of the major roadblocks in GWA research, the fine mapping of causal variants. We review the methodological challenges and consider how GWA studies in Africa will be transformed by new approaches in statistical imputation and large-scale genome sequencing.
PMCID: PMC3769612  PMID: 20084087
9.  Variation in Human Genes Encoding Adhesion and Pro-inflammatory Molecules are Associated with Severe Malaria in the Vietnamese 
Genes and immunity  2012;13(6):503-508.
The genetic basis for susceptibility to malaria has been studied widely in African populations but less is known of the contribution of specific genetic variants in Asian populations. We genotyped 67 SNPs in 1030 severe malaria cases and 2840 controls from Vietnam. After data quality control, genotyping data of 956 cases and 2350 controls were analysed for 65 SNPs (3 gender confirmation, 62 positioned in/near 42 malarial candidate genes). 14 SNPs were monomorphic and 2 (rs8078340 and rs33950507) were not in HWE in controls (P<0.01). 7/46 SNPs in 6 genes (ICAM1, IL1A, IL17RC, IL13, LTA and TNF) were associated with severe malaria, with 3/7 SNPs in the TNFA/LTA region . Genotype phenotype correlations between SNPs and clinical parameters revealed that genotypes of rs708567 (IL17RC) correlate with parasitemia (P=0.028, r2=0.0086), with GG homozygotes having the lowest parasite burden. Additionally, rs708567 GG homozygotes had a decreased risk of severe malaria [P=0.007, OR=0.78 (95% CI; 0.65-0.93)] and death [P=0.028, OR=0.58 (95% CI; 0.37-0.93)] than those with AA and AG genotypes. In summary, variants in 6 genes encoding adhesion and pro-inflammatory molecules are associated with severe malaria in the Vietnamese. Further replicative studies in independent populations will be necessary to confirm these findings.
PMCID: PMC3758997  PMID: 22673309
severe malaria; SNP; genetic association; ICAM-1; TNF; IL-17RC
10.  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
12.  The Role of Adiposity in Cardiometabolic Traits: A Mendelian Randomization Analysis 
Fall, Tove | Hägg, Sara | Mägi, Reedik | Ploner, Alexander | Fischer, Krista | Horikoshi, Momoko | Sarin, Antti-Pekka | Thorleifsson, Gudmar | Ladenvall, Claes | Kals, Mart | Kuningas, Maris | Draisma, Harmen H. M. | Ried, Janina S. | van Zuydam, Natalie R. | Huikari, Ville | Mangino, Massimo | Sonestedt, Emily | Benyamin, Beben | Nelson, Christopher P. | Rivera, Natalia V. | Kristiansson, Kati | Shen, Huei-yi | Havulinna, Aki S. | Dehghan, Abbas | Donnelly, Louise A. | Kaakinen, Marika | Nuotio, Marja-Liisa | Robertson, Neil | de Bruijn, Renée F. A. G. | Ikram, M. Arfan | Amin, Najaf | Balmforth, Anthony J. | Braund, Peter S. | Doney, Alexander S. F. | Döring, Angela | Elliott, Paul | Esko, Tõnu | Franco, Oscar H. | Gretarsdottir, Solveig | Hartikainen, Anna-Liisa | Heikkilä, Kauko | Herzig, Karl-Heinz | Holm, Hilma | Hottenga, Jouke Jan | Hyppönen, Elina | Illig, Thomas | Isaacs, Aaron | Isomaa, Bo | Karssen, Lennart C. | Kettunen, Johannes | Koenig, Wolfgang | Kuulasmaa, Kari | Laatikainen, Tiina | Laitinen, Jaana | Lindgren, Cecilia | Lyssenko, Valeriya | Läärä, Esa | Rayner, Nigel W. | Männistö, Satu | Pouta, Anneli | Rathmann, Wolfgang | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Ruokonen, Aimo | Savolainen, Markku J. | Sijbrands, Eric J. G. | Small, Kerrin S. | Smit, Jan H. | Steinthorsdottir, Valgerdur | Syvänen, Ann-Christine | Taanila, Anja | Tobin, Martin D. | Uitterlinden, Andre G. | Willems, Sara M. | Willemsen, Gonneke | Witteman, Jacqueline | Perola, Markus | Evans, Alun | Ferrières, Jean | Virtamo, Jarmo | Kee, Frank | Tregouet, David-Alexandre | Arveiler, Dominique | Amouyel, Philippe | Ferrario, Marco M. | Brambilla, Paolo | Hall, Alistair S. | Heath, Andrew C. | Madden, Pamela A. F. | Martin, Nicholas G. | Montgomery, Grant W. | Whitfield, John B. | Jula, Antti | Knekt, Paul | Oostra, Ben | van Duijn, Cornelia M. | Penninx, Brenda W. J. H. | Davey Smith, George | Kaprio, Jaakko | Samani, Nilesh J. | Gieger, Christian | Peters, Annette | Wichmann, H.-Erich | Boomsma, Dorret I. | de Geus, Eco J. C. | Tuomi, TiinaMaija | Power, Chris | Hammond, Christopher J. | Spector, Tim D. | Lind, Lars | Orho-Melander, Marju | Palmer, Colin Neil Alexander | Morris, Andrew D. | Groop, Leif | Järvelin, Marjo-Riitta | Salomaa, Veikko | Vartiainen, Erkki | Hofman, Albert | Ripatti, Samuli | Metspalu, Andres | Thorsteinsdottir, Unnur | Stefansson, Kari | Pedersen, Nancy L. | McCarthy, Mark I. | Ingelsson, Erik | Prokopenko, Inga
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001474.
In this study, Prokopenko and colleagues provide novel evidence for causal relationship between adiposity and heart failure and increased liver enzymes using a Mendelian randomization study design.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
The association between adiposity and cardiometabolic traits is well known from epidemiological studies. Whilst the causal relationship is clear for some of these traits, for others it is not. We aimed to determine whether adiposity is causally related to various cardiometabolic traits using the Mendelian randomization approach.
Methods and Findings
We used the adiposity-associated variant rs9939609 at the FTO locus as an instrumental variable (IV) for body mass index (BMI) in a Mendelian randomization design. Thirty-six population-based studies of individuals of European descent contributed to the analyses.
Age- and sex-adjusted regression models were fitted to test for association between (i) rs9939609 and BMI (n = 198,502), (ii) rs9939609 and 24 traits, and (iii) BMI and 24 traits. The causal effect of BMI on the outcome measures was quantified by IV estimators. The estimators were compared to the BMI–trait associations derived from the same individuals. In the IV analysis, we demonstrated novel evidence for a causal relationship between adiposity and incident heart failure (hazard ratio, 1.19 per BMI-unit increase; 95% CI, 1.03–1.39) and replicated earlier reports of a causal association with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dyslipidemia, and hypertension (odds ratio for IV estimator, 1.1–1.4; all p<0.05). For quantitative traits, our results provide novel evidence for a causal effect of adiposity on the liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase and gamma-glutamyl transferase and confirm previous reports of a causal effect of adiposity on systolic and diastolic blood pressure, fasting insulin, 2-h post-load glucose from the oral glucose tolerance test, C-reactive protein, triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (all p<0.05). The estimated causal effects were in agreement with traditional observational measures in all instances except for type 2 diabetes, where the causal estimate was larger than the observational estimate (p = 0.001).
We provide novel evidence for a causal relationship between adiposity and heart failure as well as between adiposity and increased liver enzymes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—disease that affects the heart and/or the blood vessels—is a major cause of illness and death worldwide. In the US, for example, coronary heart disease—a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's blood vessels by fatty deposits slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack—is the leading cause of death, and stroke—a CVD in which the brain's blood supply is interrupted—is the fourth leading cause of death. Globally, both the incidence of CVD (the number of new cases in a population every year) and its prevalence (the proportion of the population with CVD) are increasing, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This increasing burden of CVD is occurring in parallel with a global increase in the incidence and prevalence of obesity—having an unhealthy amount of body fat (adiposity)—and of metabolic diseases—conditions such as diabetes in which metabolism (the processes that the body uses to make energy from food) is disrupted, with resulting high blood sugar and damage to the blood vessels.
Why Was This Study Done?
Epidemiological studies—investigations that record the patterns and causes of disease in populations—have reported an association between adiposity (indicated by an increased body mass index [BMI], which is calculated by dividing body weight in kilograms by height in meters squared) and cardiometabolic traits such as coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure (a condition in which the heart is incapable of pumping sufficient amounts of blood around the body), diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high blood cholesterol (dyslipidemia). However, observational studies cannot prove that adiposity causes any particular cardiometabolic trait because overweight individuals may share other characteristics (confounding factors) that are the real causes of both obesity and the cardiometabolic disease. Moreover, it is possible that having CVD or a metabolic disease causes obesity (reverse causation). For example, individuals with heart failure cannot do much exercise, so heart failure may cause obesity rather than vice versa. Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether adiposity is causally related to various cardiometabolic traits. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. It is known that a genetic variant (rs9939609) within the genome region that encodes the fat-mass- and obesity-associated gene (FTO) is associated with increased BMI. Thus, an investigation of the associations between rs9939609 and cardiometabolic traits can indicate whether obesity is causally related to these traits.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed the association between rs9939609 (the “instrumental variable,” or IV) and BMI, between rs9939609 and 24 cardiometabolic traits, and between BMI and the same traits using genetic and health data collected in 36 population-based studies of nearly 200,000 individuals of European descent. They then quantified the strength of the causal association between BMI and the cardiometabolic traits by calculating “IV estimators.” Higher BMI showed a causal relationship with heart failure, metabolic syndrome (a combination of medical disorders that increases the risk of developing CVD), type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, increased blood levels of liver enzymes (an indicator of liver damage; some metabolic disorders involve liver damage), and several other cardiometabolic traits. All the IV estimators were similar to the BMI–cardiovascular trait associations (observational estimates) derived from the same individuals, with the exception of diabetes, where the causal estimate was higher than the observational estimate, probably because the observational estimate is based on a single BMI measurement, whereas the causal estimate considers lifetime changes in BMI.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Like all Mendelian randomization studies, the reliability of the causal associations reported here depends on several assumptions made by the researchers. Nevertheless, these findings provide support for many previously suspected and biologically plausible causal relationships, such as that between adiposity and hypertension. They also provide new insights into the causal effect of obesity on liver enzyme levels and on heart failure. In the latter case, these findings suggest that a one-unit increase in BMI might increase the incidence of heart failure by 17%. In the US, this corresponds to 113,000 additional cases of heart failure for every unit increase in BMI at the population level. Although additional studies are needed to confirm and extend these findings, these results suggest that global efforts to reduce the burden of obesity will likely also reduce the occurrence of CVD and metabolic disorders.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The American Heart Association provides information on all aspects of cardiovascular disease and tips on keeping the heart healthy, including weight management (in several languages); its website includes personal stories about stroke and heart attacks
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on heart disease, stroke, and all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about cardiovascular disease and obesity, including a personal story about losing weight
The World Health Organization provides information on obesity (in several languages)
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about the global obesity epidemic
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to other sources of information on heart disease, on vascular disease, on obesity, and on metabolic disorders (in English and Spanish)
The International Association for the Study of Obesity provides maps and information about obesity worldwide
The International Diabetes Federation has a web page that describes types, complications, and risk factors of diabetes
PMCID: PMC3692470  PMID: 23824655
13.  Imputation-Based Meta-Analysis of Severe Malaria in Three African Populations 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(5):e1003509.
Combining data from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) conducted at different locations, using genotype imputation and fixed-effects meta-analysis, has been a powerful approach for dissecting complex disease genetics in populations of European ancestry. Here we investigate the feasibility of applying the same approach in Africa, where genetic diversity, both within and between populations, is far more extensive. We analyse genome-wide data from approximately 5,000 individuals with severe malaria and 7,000 population controls from three different locations in Africa. Our results show that the standard approach is well powered to detect known malaria susceptibility loci when sample sizes are large, and that modern methods for association analysis can control the potential confounding effects of population structure. We show that pattern of association around the haemoglobin S allele differs substantially across populations due to differences in haplotype structure. Motivated by these observations we consider new approaches to association analysis that might prove valuable for multicentre GWAS in Africa: we relax the assumptions of SNP–based fixed effect analysis; we apply Bayesian approaches to allow for heterogeneity in the effect of an allele on risk across studies; and we introduce a region-based test to allow for heterogeneity in the location of causal alleles.
Author Summary
Malaria kills nearly a million people every year, most of whom are young children in Africa. The risk of developing severe malaria is known to be affected by genetics, but so far only a handful of genetic risk factors for malaria have been identified. We studied over a million DNA variants in over 5,000 individuals with severe malaria from the Gambia, Malawi, and Kenya, and about 7,000 healthy individuals from the same countries. Because the populations of Africa are far more genetically diverse than those in Europe, it is necessary to use statistical models that can account for both broad differences between countries and subtler differences between ethnic groups within the same community. We identified known associations at the genes ABO (which affects blood type) and HBB (which causes sickle cell disease), and showed that the latter is heterogeneous across populations. We used these findings to guide the development of statistical tests for association that take this heterogeneity into account, by modelling differences in the strength and genomic location of effect across and within African populations.
PMCID: PMC3662650  PMID: 23717212
14.  A genome-wide approach accounting for body mass index identifies genetic variants influencing fasting glycemic traits and insulin resistance 
Manning, Alisa K. | Hivert, Marie-France | Scott, Robert A. | Grimsby, Jonna L. | Bouatia-Naji, Nabila | Chen, Han | Rybin, Denis | Liu, Ching-Ti | Bielak, Lawrence F. | Prokopenko, Inga | Amin, Najaf | Barnes, Daniel | Cadby, Gemma | Hottenga, Jouke-Jan | Ingelsson, Erik | Jackson, Anne U. | Johnson, Toby | Kanoni, Stavroula | Ladenvall, Claes | Lagou, Vasiliki | Lahti, Jari | Lecoeur, Cecile | Liu, Yongmei | Martinez-Larrad, Maria Teresa | Montasser, May E. | Navarro, Pau | Perry, John R. B. | Rasmussen-Torvik, Laura J. | Salo, Perttu | Sattar, Naveed | Shungin, Dmitry | Strawbridge, Rona J. | Tanaka, Toshiko | van Duijn, Cornelia M. | An, Ping | de Andrade, Mariza | Andrews, Jeanette S. | Aspelund, Thor | Atalay, Mustafa | Aulchenko, Yurii | Balkau, Beverley | Bandinelli, Stefania | Beckmann, Jacques S. | Beilby, John P. | Bellis, Claire | Bergman, Richard N. | Blangero, John | Boban, Mladen | Boehnke, Michael | Boerwinkle, Eric | Bonnycastle, Lori L. | Boomsma, Dorret I. | Borecki, Ingrid B. | Böttcher, Yvonne | Bouchard, Claude | Brunner, Eric | Budimir, Danijela | Campbell, Harry | Carlson, Olga | Chines, Peter S. | Clarke, Robert | Collins, Francis S. | Corbatón-Anchuelo, Arturo | Couper, David | de Faire, Ulf | Dedoussis, George V | Deloukas, Panos | Dimitriou, Maria | Egan, Josephine M | Eiriksdottir, Gudny | Erdos, Michael R. | Eriksson, Johan G. | Eury, Elodie | Ferrucci, Luigi | Ford, Ian | Forouhi, Nita G. | Fox, Caroline S | Franzosi, Maria Grazia | Franks, Paul W | Frayling, Timothy M | Froguel, Philippe | Galan, Pilar | de Geus, Eco | Gigante, Bruna | Glazer, Nicole L. | Goel, Anuj | Groop, Leif | Gudnason, Vilmundur | Hallmans, Göran | Hamsten, Anders | Hansson, Ola | Harris, Tamara B. | Hayward, Caroline | Heath, Simon | Hercberg, Serge | Hicks, Andrew A. | Hingorani, Aroon | Hofman, Albert | Hui, Jennie | Hung, Joseph | Jarvelin, Marjo Riitta | Jhun, Min A. | Johnson, Paul C.D. | Jukema, J Wouter | Jula, Antti | Kao, W.H. | Kaprio, Jaakko | Kardia, Sharon L. R. | Keinanen-Kiukaanniemi, Sirkka | Kivimaki, Mika | Kolcic, Ivana | Kovacs, Peter | Kumari, Meena | Kuusisto, Johanna | Kyvik, Kirsten Ohm | Laakso, Markku | Lakka, Timo | Lannfelt, Lars | Lathrop, G Mark | Launer, Lenore J. | Leander, Karin | Li, Guo | Lind, Lars | Lindstrom, Jaana | Lobbens, Stéphane | Loos, Ruth J. F. | Luan, Jian’an | Lyssenko, Valeriya | Mägi, Reedik | Magnusson, Patrik K. E. | Marmot, Michael | Meneton, Pierre | Mohlke, Karen L. | Mooser, Vincent | Morken, Mario A. | Miljkovic, Iva | Narisu, Narisu | O’Connell, Jeff | Ong, Ken K. | Oostra, Ben A. | Palmer, Lyle J. | Palotie, Aarno | Pankow, James S. | Peden, John F. | Pedersen, Nancy L. | Pehlic, Marina | Peltonen, Leena | Penninx, Brenda | Pericic, Marijana | Perola, Markus | Perusse, Louis | Peyser, Patricia A | Polasek, Ozren | Pramstaller, Peter P. | Province, Michael A. | Räikkönen, Katri | Rauramaa, Rainer | Rehnberg, Emil | Rice, Ken | Rotter, Jerome I. | Rudan, Igor | Ruokonen, Aimo | Saaristo, Timo | Sabater-Lleal, Maria | Salomaa, Veikko | Savage, David B. | Saxena, Richa | Schwarz, Peter | Seedorf, Udo | Sennblad, Bengt | Serrano-Rios, Manuel | Shuldiner, Alan R. | Sijbrands, Eric J.G. | Siscovick, David S. | Smit, Johannes H. | Small, Kerrin S. | Smith, Nicholas L. | Smith, Albert Vernon | Stančáková, Alena | Stirrups, Kathleen | Stumvoll, Michael | Sun, Yan V. | Swift, Amy J. | Tönjes, Anke | Tuomilehto, Jaakko | Trompet, Stella | Uitterlinden, Andre G. | Uusitupa, Matti | Vikström, Max | Vitart, Veronique | Vohl, Marie-Claude | Voight, Benjamin F. | Vollenweider, Peter | Waeber, Gerard | Waterworth, Dawn M | Watkins, Hugh | Wheeler, Eleanor | Widen, Elisabeth | Wild, Sarah H. | Willems, Sara M. | Willemsen, Gonneke | Wilson, James F. | Witteman, Jacqueline C.M. | Wright, Alan F. | Yaghootkar, Hanieh | Zelenika, Diana | Zemunik, Tatijana | Zgaga, Lina | Wareham, Nicholas J. | McCarthy, Mark I. | Barroso, Ines | Watanabe, Richard M. | Florez, Jose C. | Dupuis, Josée | Meigs, James B. | Langenberg, Claudia
Nature genetics  2012;44(6):659-669.
Recent genome-wide association studies have described many loci implicated in type 2 diabetes (T2D) pathophysiology and beta-cell dysfunction, but contributed little to our understanding of the genetic basis of insulin resistance. We hypothesized that genes implicated in insulin resistance pathways may be uncovered by accounting for differences in body mass index (BMI) and potential interaction between BMI and genetic variants. We applied a novel joint meta-analytical approach to test associations with fasting insulin (FI) and glucose (FG) on a genome-wide scale. We present six previously unknown FI loci at P<5×10−8 in combined discovery and follow-up analyses of 52 studies comprising up to 96,496non-diabetic individuals. Risk variants were associated with higher triglyceride and lower HDL cholesterol levels, suggestive of a role for these FI loci in insulin resistance pathways. The localization of these additional loci will aid further characterization of the role of insulin resistance in T2D pathophysiology.
PMCID: PMC3613127  PMID: 22581228
15.  Large-scale association analyses identify new loci influencing glycemic traits and provide insight into the underlying biological pathways 
Scott, Robert A | Lagou, Vasiliki | Welch, Ryan P | Wheeler, Eleanor | Montasser, May E | Luan, Jian’an | Mägi, Reedik | Strawbridge, Rona J | Rehnberg, Emil | Gustafsson, Stefan | Kanoni, Stavroula | Rasmussen-Torvik, Laura J | Yengo, Loïc | Lecoeur, Cecile | Shungin, Dmitry | Sanna, Serena | Sidore, Carlo | Johnson, Paul C D | Jukema, J Wouter | Johnson, Toby | Mahajan, Anubha | Verweij, Niek | Thorleifsson, Gudmar | Hottenga, Jouke-Jan | Shah, Sonia | Smith, Albert V | Sennblad, Bengt | Gieger, Christian | Salo, Perttu | Perola, Markus | Timpson, Nicholas J | Evans, David M | Pourcain, Beate St | Wu, Ying | Andrews, Jeanette S | Hui, Jennie | Bielak, Lawrence F | Zhao, Wei | Horikoshi, Momoko | Navarro, Pau | Isaacs, Aaron | O’Connell, Jeffrey R | Stirrups, Kathleen | Vitart, Veronique | Hayward, Caroline | Esko, Tönu | Mihailov, Evelin | Fraser, Ross M | Fall, Tove | Voight, Benjamin F | Raychaudhuri, Soumya | Chen, Han | Lindgren, Cecilia M | Morris, Andrew P | Rayner, Nigel W | Robertson, Neil | Rybin, Denis | Liu, Ching-Ti | Beckmann, Jacques S | Willems, Sara M | Chines, Peter S | Jackson, Anne U | Kang, Hyun Min | Stringham, Heather M | Song, Kijoung | Tanaka, Toshiko | Peden, John F | Goel, Anuj | Hicks, Andrew A | An, Ping | Müller-Nurasyid, Martina | Franco-Cereceda, Anders | Folkersen, Lasse | Marullo, Letizia | Jansen, Hanneke | Oldehinkel, Albertine J | Bruinenberg, Marcel | Pankow, James S | North, Kari E | Forouhi, Nita G | Loos, Ruth J F | Edkins, Sarah | Varga, Tibor V | Hallmans, Göran | Oksa, Heikki | Antonella, Mulas | Nagaraja, Ramaiah | Trompet, Stella | Ford, Ian | Bakker, Stephan J L | Kong, Augustine | Kumari, Meena | Gigante, Bruna | Herder, Christian | Munroe, Patricia B | Caulfield, Mark | Antti, Jula | Mangino, Massimo | Small, Kerrin | Miljkovic, Iva | Liu, Yongmei | Atalay, Mustafa | Kiess, Wieland | James, Alan L | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Uitterlinden, Andre G | Palmer, Colin N A | Doney, Alex S F | Willemsen, Gonneke | Smit, Johannes H | Campbell, Susan | Polasek, Ozren | Bonnycastle, Lori L | Hercberg, Serge | Dimitriou, Maria | Bolton, Jennifer L | Fowkes, Gerard R | Kovacs, Peter | Lindström, Jaana | Zemunik, Tatijana | Bandinelli, Stefania | Wild, Sarah H | Basart, Hanneke V | Rathmann, Wolfgang | Grallert, Harald | Maerz, Winfried | Kleber, Marcus E | Boehm, Bernhard O | Peters, Annette | Pramstaller, Peter P | Province, Michael A | Borecki, Ingrid B | Hastie, Nicholas D | Rudan, Igor | Campbell, Harry | Watkins, Hugh | Farrall, Martin | Stumvoll, Michael | Ferrucci, Luigi | Waterworth, Dawn M | Bergman, Richard N | Collins, Francis S | Tuomilehto, Jaakko | Watanabe, Richard M | de Geus, Eco J C | Penninx, Brenda W | Hofman, Albert | Oostra, Ben A | Psaty, Bruce M | Vollenweider, Peter | Wilson, James F | Wright, Alan F | Hovingh, G Kees | Metspalu, Andres | Uusitupa, Matti | Magnusson, Patrik K E | Kyvik, Kirsten O | Kaprio, Jaakko | Price, Jackie F | Dedoussis, George V | Deloukas, Panos | Meneton, Pierre | Lind, Lars | Boehnke, Michael | Shuldiner, Alan R | van Duijn, Cornelia M | Morris, Andrew D | Toenjes, Anke | Peyser, Patricia A | Beilby, John P | Körner, Antje | Kuusisto, Johanna | Laakso, Markku | Bornstein, Stefan R | Schwarz, Peter E H | Lakka, Timo A | Rauramaa, Rainer | Adair, Linda S | Smith, George Davey | Spector, Tim D | Illig, Thomas | de Faire, Ulf | Hamsten, Anders | Gudnason, Vilmundur | Kivimaki, Mika | Hingorani, Aroon | Keinanen-Kiukaanniemi, Sirkka M | Saaristo, Timo E | Boomsma, Dorret I | Stefansson, Kari | van der Harst, Pim | Dupuis, Josée | Pedersen, Nancy L | Sattar, Naveed | Harris, Tamara B | Cucca, Francesco | Ripatti, Samuli | Salomaa, Veikko | Mohlke, Karen L | Balkau, Beverley | Froguel, Philippe | Pouta, Anneli | Jarvelin, Marjo-Riitta | Wareham, Nicholas J | Bouatia-Naji, Nabila | McCarthy, Mark I | Franks, Paul W | Meigs, James B | Teslovich, Tanya M | Florez, Jose C | Langenberg, Claudia | Ingelsson, Erik | Prokopenko, Inga | Barroso, Inês
Nature genetics  2012;44(9):991-1005.
Through genome-wide association meta-analyses of up to 133,010 individuals of European ancestry without diabetes, including individuals newly genotyped using the Metabochip, we have raised the number of confirmed loci influencing glycemic traits to 53, of which 33 also increase type 2 diabetes risk (q < 0.05). Loci influencing fasting insulin showed association with lipid levels and fat distribution, suggesting impact on insulin resistance. Gene-based analyses identified further biologically plausible loci, suggesting that additional loci beyond those reaching genome-wide significance are likely to represent real associations. This conclusion is supported by an excess of directionally consistent and nominally significant signals between discovery and follow-up studies. Functional follow-up of these newly discovered loci will further improve our understanding of glycemic control.
PMCID: PMC3433394  PMID: 22885924
16.  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
17.  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
18.  Epigenome-Wide Scans Identify Differentially Methylated Regions for Age and Age-Related Phenotypes in a Healthy Ageing Population 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(4):e1002629.
Age-related changes in DNA methylation have been implicated in cellular senescence and longevity, yet the causes and functional consequences of these variants remain unclear. To elucidate the role of age-related epigenetic changes in healthy ageing and potential longevity, we tested for association between whole-blood DNA methylation patterns in 172 female twins aged 32 to 80 with age and age-related phenotypes. Twin-based DNA methylation levels at 26,690 CpG-sites showed evidence for mean genome-wide heritability of 18%, which was supported by the identification of 1,537 CpG-sites with methylation QTLs in cis at FDR 5%. We performed genome-wide analyses to discover differentially methylated regions (DMRs) for sixteen age-related phenotypes (ap-DMRs) and chronological age (a-DMRs). Epigenome-wide association scans (EWAS) identified age-related phenotype DMRs (ap-DMRs) associated with LDL (STAT5A), lung function (WT1), and maternal longevity (ARL4A, TBX20). In contrast, EWAS for chronological age identified hundreds of predominantly hyper-methylated age DMRs (490 a-DMRs at FDR 5%), of which only one (TBX20) was also associated with an age-related phenotype. Therefore, the majority of age-related changes in DNA methylation are not associated with phenotypic measures of healthy ageing in later life. We replicated a large proportion of a-DMRs in a sample of 44 younger adult MZ twins aged 20 to 61, suggesting that a-DMRs may initiate at an earlier age. We next explored potential genetic and environmental mechanisms underlying a-DMRs and ap-DMRs. Genome-wide overlap across cis-meQTLs, genotype-phenotype associations, and EWAS ap-DMRs identified CpG-sites that had cis-meQTLs with evidence for genotype–phenotype association, where the CpG-site was also an ap-DMR for the same phenotype. Monozygotic twin methylation difference analyses identified one potential environmentally-mediated ap-DMR associated with total cholesterol and LDL (CSMD1). Our results suggest that in a small set of genes DNA methylation may be a candidate mechanism of mediating not only environmental, but also genetic effects on age-related phenotypes.
Author Summary
Epigenetic patterns vary during healthy ageing and development. Age-related DNA methylation changes have been implicated in cellular senescence and longevity, yet the causes and functional consequences of these variants remain unclear. To understand the biological mechanisms involved in potential longevity and rate of healthy ageing, we performed genome-wide association of epigenetic and genetic variation with both chronological age and age-related phenotypes. We identified hundreds of DNA methylation variants significantly associated with age and replicated these in an independent sample of young adult twins. Only a small proportion of these variants were also associated with age-related phenotypes. Therefore, the majority of age-related epigenetic changes do not contribute to rate of healthy ageing at later stages in life. Our results suggest that age-related changes in methylation occur throughout an individual's lifespan and that a proportion of these may be initiated from an early age. Intriguingly, a fraction of the age differentially methylated regions also associated with genetic variants in our sample, suggesting that DNA methylation may be a candidate mechanism of mediating not only environmental but also genetic effects on age-related phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3330116  PMID: 22532803
19.  Novel Loci for Adiponectin Levels and Their Influence on Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Traits: A Multi-Ethnic Meta-Analysis of 45,891 Individuals 
Dastani, Zari | Hivert, Marie-France | Timpson, Nicholas | Perry, John R. B. | Yuan, Xin | Scott, Robert A. | Henneman, Peter | Heid, Iris M. | Kizer, Jorge R. | Lyytikäinen, Leo-Pekka | Fuchsberger, Christian | Tanaka, Toshiko | Morris, Andrew P. | Small, Kerrin | Isaacs, Aaron | Beekman, Marian | Coassin, Stefan | Lohman, Kurt | Qi, Lu | Kanoni, Stavroula | Pankow, James S. | Uh, Hae-Won | Wu, Ying | Bidulescu, Aurelian | Rasmussen-Torvik, Laura J. | Greenwood, Celia M. T. | Ladouceur, Martin | Grimsby, Jonna | Manning, Alisa K. | Liu, Ching-Ti | Kooner, Jaspal | Mooser, Vincent E. | Vollenweider, Peter | Kapur, Karen A. | Chambers, John | Wareham, Nicholas J. | Langenberg, Claudia | Frants, Rune | Willems-vanDijk, Ko | Oostra, Ben A. | Willems, Sara M. | Lamina, Claudia | Winkler, Thomas W. | Psaty, Bruce M. | Tracy, Russell P. | Brody, Jennifer | Chen, Ida | Viikari, Jorma | Kähönen, Mika | Pramstaller, Peter P. | Evans, David M. | St. Pourcain, Beate | Sattar, Naveed | Wood, Andrew R. | Bandinelli, Stefania | Carlson, Olga D. | Egan, Josephine M. | Böhringer, Stefan | van Heemst, Diana | Kedenko, Lyudmyla | Kristiansson, Kati | Nuotio, Marja-Liisa | Loo, Britt-Marie | Harris, Tamara | Garcia, Melissa | Kanaya, Alka | Haun, Margot | Klopp, Norman | Wichmann, H.-Erich | Deloukas, Panos | Katsareli, Efi | Couper, David J. | Duncan, Bruce B. | Kloppenburg, Margreet | Adair, Linda S. | Borja, Judith B. | Wilson, James G. | Musani, Solomon | Guo, Xiuqing | Johnson, Toby | Semple, Robert | Teslovich, Tanya M. | Allison, Matthew A. | Redline, Susan | Buxbaum, Sarah G. | Mohlke, Karen L. | Meulenbelt, Ingrid | Ballantyne, Christie M. | Dedoussis, George V. | Hu, Frank B. | Liu, Yongmei | Paulweber, Bernhard | Spector, Timothy D. | Slagboom, P. Eline | Ferrucci, Luigi | Jula, Antti | Perola, Markus | Raitakari, Olli | Florez, Jose C. | Salomaa, Veikko | Eriksson, Johan G. | Frayling, Timothy M. | Hicks, Andrew A. | Lehtimäki, Terho | Smith, George Davey | Siscovick, David S. | Kronenberg, Florian | van Duijn, Cornelia | Loos, Ruth J. F. | Waterworth, Dawn M. | Meigs, James B. | Dupuis, Josee | Richards, J. Brent
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002607.
Circulating levels of adiponectin, a hormone produced predominantly by adipocytes, are highly heritable and are inversely associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D) and other metabolic traits. We conducted a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies in 39,883 individuals of European ancestry to identify genes associated with metabolic disease. We identified 8 novel loci associated with adiponectin levels and confirmed 2 previously reported loci (P = 4.5×10−8–1.2×10−43). Using a novel method to combine data across ethnicities (N = 4,232 African Americans, N = 1,776 Asians, and N = 29,347 Europeans), we identified two additional novel loci. Expression analyses of 436 human adipocyte samples revealed that mRNA levels of 18 genes at candidate regions were associated with adiponectin concentrations after accounting for multiple testing (p<3×10−4). We next developed a multi-SNP genotypic risk score to test the association of adiponectin decreasing risk alleles on metabolic traits and diseases using consortia-level meta-analytic data. This risk score was associated with increased risk of T2D (p = 4.3×10−3, n = 22,044), increased triglycerides (p = 2.6×10−14, n = 93,440), increased waist-to-hip ratio (p = 1.8×10−5, n = 77,167), increased glucose two hours post oral glucose tolerance testing (p = 4.4×10−3, n = 15,234), increased fasting insulin (p = 0.015, n = 48,238), but with lower in HDL-cholesterol concentrations (p = 4.5×10−13, n = 96,748) and decreased BMI (p = 1.4×10−4, n = 121,335). These findings identify novel genetic determinants of adiponectin levels, which, taken together, influence risk of T2D and markers of insulin resistance.
Author Summary
Serum adiponectin levels are highly heritable and are inversely correlated with the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), coronary artery disease, stroke, and several metabolic traits. To identify common genetic variants associated with adiponectin levels and risk of T2D and metabolic traits, we conducted a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies of 45,891 multi-ethnic individuals. In addition to confirming that variants at the ADIPOQ and CDH13 loci influence adiponectin levels, our analyses revealed that 10 new loci also affecting circulating adiponectin levels. We demonstrated that expression levels of several genes in these candidate regions are associated with serum adiponectin levels. Using a powerful novel method to assess the contribution of the identified variants with other traits using summary-level results from large-scale GWAS consortia, we provide evidence that the risk alleles for adiponectin are associated with deleterious changes in T2D risk and metabolic syndrome traits (triglycerides, HDL, post-prandial glucose, insulin, and waist-to-hip ratio), demonstrating that the identified loci, taken together, impact upon metabolic disease.
PMCID: PMC3315470  PMID: 22479202
20.  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
21.  A Bayesian approach using covariance of single nucleotide polymorphism data to detect differences in linkage disequilibrium patterns between groups of individuals 
Bioinformatics  2010;26(16):1999-2003.
Motivation: Quantifying differences in linkage disequilibrium (LD) between sub-groups can highlight genetic regions or sites under selection and/or associated with disease, and may have utility in trans-ethnic mapping studies.
Results: We present a novel pseudo Bayes factor (PBF) approach that assess differences in covariance of genotype frequencies from single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data from a genome-wide study. The magnitude of the PBF reflects the strength of evidence for a difference, while accounting for the sample size and number of SNPs, without the requirement for permutation testing to establish statistical significance. Application of the PBF to HapMap and Gambian malaria SNP data reveals regional LD differences, some known to be under selection.
Availability and implementation: The PBF approach has been implemented in the BALD (Bayesian analysis of LD differences) C++ software, and is available from
PMCID: PMC2916719  PMID: 20554688
22.  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
23.  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
24.  Assessing genuine parents-offspring trios for genetic association studies 
Human heredity  2008;67(1):26-37.
Family-based association tests such as the transmission disequilibrium test (TDT) are dependent on the successful ascertainment of true nuclear family trios. Relationship misspecification inevitably occurs in a proportion of trios collected for genotyping which undetected can lead to a loss of power and increased Type I error due to biases in over-transmission of common alleles. Here, we introduce a method for evaluating the authenticity of nuclear family trios.
Operating in a Bayesian framework, our approach assesses the extent of pedigree inconsistent genotype configurations in the presence of genotyping errors. Unlike other approaches, our method: (i) utilizes information from three individuals collectively (the whole trio) rather than consider two independent pairwise relationships; (ii) down-weighs SNPs with poor performance; (iii) does not require the user to pre-define a rate of genotyping error, which is often unknown to the user and seldom fixed across the different SNPs considered which available methods unrealistically assumed.
Simulation studies and comparisons with a real set of data showed that our approach is more likely to correctly identify the presence of true and misspecified trios compared to available software, accurately infers the extent of relationship misspecification in a trio and accurately estimates the genotyping error rates.
Assessing relationship misspecification depends on the fidelity of the genotype data used. Available algorithms are not optimised for genotyping technology with varying rates of errors across the markers. Through our comparison studies, our approach is shown to outperform available methods for assessing relationship misspecifications.
PMCID: PMC3000594  PMID: 18931507
relationship misspecification; pedigree inconsistency; genotyping error
25.  Power consequences of linkage disequilibrium variation between populations 
Genetic epidemiology  2009;33(2):128-135.
We quantify the degree to which LD differences exist in the human genome and investigates the consequences that variations in patterns of LD between populations can have on the power of case-control or family-trio association studies. Although only a small proportion of SNPs show significant LD differences (0.8–5%), these can introduce artificial signals of associations and reduce the power to detect true associations in case-control designs, even when meta-analytic approaches are used to account for stratification.We show that combining trios from different populations in the presence of significant LD differences can adversely affect power even though the number of trios has increased. Our results have implications on genetic studies conducted in populations with substantial population structure and show that the use of meta-analytic approaches or family-based designs to protect Type 1 error does not prevent loss of power due to differences in LD across populations.
PMCID: PMC2997478  PMID: 18814308
Linkage disequilibrium; power; case-control; family trios; population structure

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