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1.  A Large-Scale, Consortium-Based Genomewide Association Study of Asthma 
The New England journal of medicine  2010;363(13):1211-1221.
Susceptibility to asthma is influenced by genes and environment; implicated genes may indicate pathways for therapeutic intervention. Genetic risk factors may be useful in identifying subtypes of asthma and determining whether intermediate phenotypes, such as elevation of the total serum IgE level, are causally linked to disease.
We carried out a genomewide association study by genotyping 10,365 persons with physician-diagnosed asthma and 16,110 unaffected persons, all of whom were matched for ancestry. We used random-effects pooled analysis to test for association in the overall study population and in subgroups of subjects with childhood-onset asthma (defined as asthma developing before 16 years of age), later-onset asthma, severe asthma, and occupational asthma.
We observed associations of genomewide significance between asthma and the following single-nucleotide polymorphisms: rs3771166 on chromosome 2, implicating IL1RL1/IL18R1 (P =3×10−9); rs9273349 on chromosome 6, implicating HLA-DQ (P = 7×10−14); rs1342326 on chromosome 9, flanking IL33 (P = 9×10−10); rs744910 on chromosome 15 in SMAD3 (P = 4×10−9); and rs2284033 on chromosome 22 in IL2RB (P = 1.1×10−8). Association with the ORMDL3/GSDMB locus on chromosome 17q21 was specific to childhood-onset disease (rs2305480, P = 6×10−23). Only HLA-DR showed a significant genomewide association with the total serum IgE concentration, and loci strongly associated with IgE levels were not associated with asthma.
Asthma is genetically heterogeneous. A few common alleles are associated with disease risk at all ages. Implicated genes suggest a role for communication of epithelial damage to the adaptive immune system and activation of airway inflammation. Variants at the ORMDL3/GSDMB locus are associated only with childhood-onset disease. Elevation of total serum IgE levels has a minor role in the development of asthma. (Funded by the European Commission and others.)
PMCID: PMC4260321  PMID: 20860503
2.  Th1/Th17 Plasticity Is a Marker of Advanced β Cell Autoimmunity and Impaired Glucose Tolerance in Humans 
Upregulation of IL-17 immunity and detrimental effects of IL-17 on human islets have been implicated in human type 1 diabetes. In animal models, the plasticity of Th1/Th17 cells contributes to the development of autoimmune diabetes. In this study, we demonstrate that the upregulation of the IL-17 pathway and Th1/Th17 plasticity in peripheral blood are markers of advanced β cell autoimmunity and impaired β cell function in human type 1 diabetes. Activated Th17 immunity was observed in the late stage of preclinical diabetes in children with β cell autoimmunity and impaired glucose tolerance, but not in children with early β cell autoimmunity. We found an increased ratio of IFN-γ/IL-17 expression in Th17 cells in children with advanced β cell autoimmunity, which correlated with HbA1c and plasma glucose concentrations in an oral glucose tolerance test, and thus impaired β cell function. Low expression of Helios was seen in Th17 cells, suggesting that Th1/Th17 cells are not converted thymus-derived regulatory T cells. Our results suggest that the development of Th1/Th17 plasticity may serve as a biomarker of disease progression from β cell autoantibody positivity to type 1 diabetes. These data in human type 1 diabetes emphasize the role of Th1/Th17 plasticity as a potential contributor to tissue destruction in autoimmune conditions.
PMCID: PMC4273995  PMID: 25480564
4.  Expression of Genes Related to Anti-Inflammatory Pathways Are Modified Among Farmers’ Children 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91097.
The hygiene hypothesis states that children exposed to higher loads of microbes such as farmers’ children suffer less from allergies later in life. Several immunological mechanisms underpinning the hygiene hypothesis have been proposed such as a shift in T helper cell balance, T regulatory cell activity, or immune regulatory mechanisms induced by the innate immunity.
To investigate whether the proposed immunological mechanisms for the hygiene hypotheses are found in farmers’ children.
We assessed gene expression levels of 64 essential markers of the innate and adaptive immunity by quantitative real-time PCR in white blood cells in 316 Swiss children of the PARSIFAL study to compare farmers’ to non-farmers’ expressions and to associate them to the prevalence of asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis, total and allergen-specific IgE in serum, and expression of Cε germ-line transcripts.
We found enhanced expression of genes of the innate immunity such as IRAK-4 and RIPK1 and enhanced expression of regulatory molecules such as IL-10, TGF-β, SOCS4, and IRAK-2 in farmers’ children. Furthermore, farmers’ children expressed less of the TH1 associated cytokine IFN-γ while TH2 associated transcription factor GATA3 was enhanced. No significant associations between the assessed immunological markers and allergic diseases or sensitization to allergens were observed.
Farmers’ children express multiple increased innate immune response and immune regulatory molecules, which may contribute to the mechanisms of action of the hygiene hypothesis.
PMCID: PMC3946278  PMID: 24603716
6.  Interaction between Retinoid Acid Receptor-Related Orphan Receptor Alpha (RORA) and Neuropeptide S Receptor 1 (NPSR1) in Asthma 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60111.
Retinoid acid receptor-related Orphan Receptor Alpha (RORA) was recently identified as a susceptibility gene for asthma in a genome-wide association study. To investigate the impact of RORA on asthma susceptibility, we performed a genetic association study between RORA single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the vicinity of the asthma-associated SNP (rs11071559) and asthma-related traits. Because the regulatory region of a previously implicated asthma susceptibility gene, Neuropeptide S receptor 1 (NPSR1), has predicted elements for RORA binding, we hypothesized that RORA may interact biologically and genetically with NPSR1. 37 RORA SNPs and eight NPSR1 SNPs were genotyped in the Swedish birth cohort BAMSE (2033 children) and the European cross-sectional PARSIFAL study (1120 children). Seven RORA SNPs confined into a 49 kb region were significantly associated with physician-diagnosed childhood asthma. The most significant association with rs7164773 (T/C) was driven by the CC genotype in asthma cases (OR = 2.0, 95%CI 1.36–2.93, p = 0.0003 in BAMSE; and 1.61, 1.18–2.19, p = 0.002 in the combined BAMSE-PARSIFAL datasets, respectively), and strikingly, the risk effect was dependent on the Gln344Arg mutation in NPSR1. In cell models, stimulation of NPSR1 activated a pathway including RORA and other circadian clock genes. Over-expression of RORA decreased NPSR1 promoter activity further suggesting a regulatory loop between these genes. In addition, Rora mRNA expression was lower in the lung tissue of Npsr1 deficient mice compared to wildtype littermates during the early hours of the light period. We conclude that RORA SNPs are associated with childhood asthma and show epistasis with NPSR1, and the interaction between RORA and NPSR1 may be of biological relevance. Combinations of common susceptibility alleles and less common functional polymorphisms may modify the joint risk effects on asthma susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC3615072  PMID: 23565190
7.  Spirometry Reference Equations for Central European Populations from School Age to Old Age 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52619.
Spirometry reference values are important for the interpretation of spirometry results. Reference values should be updated regularly, derived from a population as similar to the population for which they are to be used and span across all ages. Such spirometry reference equations are currently lacking for central European populations.
To develop spirometry reference equations for central European populations between 8 and 90 years of age.
We used data collected between January 1993 and December 2010 from a central European population. The data was modelled using “Generalized Additive Models for Location, Scale and Shape” (GAMLSS).
The spirometry reference equations were derived from 118'891 individuals consisting of 60'624 (51%) females and 58'267 (49%) males. Altogether, there were 18'211 (15.3%) children under the age of 18 years.
We developed spirometry reference equations for a central European population between 8 and 90 years of age that can be implemented in a wide range of clinical settings.
PMCID: PMC3540072  PMID: 23320075
8.  Novel Statistical Approaches for Non-Normal Censored Immunological Data: Analysis of Cytokine and Gene Expression Data 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46423.
For several immune-mediated diseases, immunological analysis will become more complex in the future with datasets in which cytokine and gene expression data play a major role. These data have certain characteristics that require sophisticated statistical analysis such as strategies for non-normal distribution and censoring. Additionally, complex and multiple immunological relationships need to be adjusted for potential confounding and interaction effects.
We aimed to introduce and apply different methods for statistical analysis of non-normal censored cytokine and gene expression data. Furthermore, we assessed the performance and accuracy of a novel regression approach in order to allow adjusting for covariates and potential confounding.
For non-normally distributed censored data traditional means such as the Kaplan-Meier method or the generalized Wilcoxon test are described. In order to adjust for covariates the novel approach named Tobit regression on ranks was introduced. Its performance and accuracy for analysis of non-normal censored cytokine/gene expression data was evaluated by a simulation study and a statistical experiment applying permutation and bootstrapping.
If adjustment for covariates is not necessary traditional statistical methods are adequate for non-normal censored data. Comparable with these and appropriate if additional adjustment is required, Tobit regression on ranks is a valid method. Its power, type-I error rate and accuracy were comparable to the classical Tobit regression.
Non-normally distributed censored immunological data require appropriate statistical methods. Tobit regression on ranks meets these requirements and can be used for adjustment for covariates and potential confounding in large and complex immunological datasets.
PMCID: PMC3482200  PMID: 23110049
9.  TBX21 and HLX1 Polymorphisms Influence Cytokine Secretion at Birth 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e31069.
TBX21 (T cell specific T-box transcription factor) and HLX1 (H.20-like homeobox 1) are crucial transcription factors of TH1-cells, inducing their differentiation and suppressing TH2 commitment, particularly important for early life immune development. This study investigated the influence of TBX21 and HLX1 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which have previously been shown to be associated with asthma, on TH1/TH2 lineage cytokines at birth.
Methods and Findings
Cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMCs) of 200 neonates were genotyped for two TBX21 and three HLX1 SNPs. CBMCs were stimulated with innate (Lipid A, LpA; Peptidoglycan, Ppg), adaptive stimuli (house dust mite Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus 1, Derp1) or mitogen (phytohemagglutinin, PHA). Cytokines, T-cells and mRNA expression of TH1/TH2-related genes were assessed. Atopic diseases during the first 3 years of life were assessed by questionnaire answered by the parents.
Carriers of TBX21 promoter SNP rs17250932 and HLX1 promoter SNP rs2738751 showed reduced or trendwise reduced (p≤0.07) IL-5, IL-13 and TNF-α secretion after LpA-stimulation. Carriers of HLX1 SNP rs2738751 had lower IL-13 levels following Ppg-stimulation (p = 0.08). Carriers of HLX1 exon 1 SNP rs12141189 showed increased IL-5 (LpA, p = 0.007; Ppg, p = 0.10), trendwise increased IL-13 (LpA), higher GM-CSF (LpA/Ppg, p≤0.05) and trendwise decreased IFN-γ secretion (Derp1+LpA-stimulation, p = 0.1). Homozygous carriers of HLX1 promoter SNP rs3806325 showed increased IL-13 and IL-6 (unstimulated, p≤0.03). In carriers of TBX21 intron 3 SNP rs11079788 no differences in cytokine secretion were observed. mRNA expression of TH1/TH2-related genes partly correlated with cytokines at protein level. TBX21 SNP rs11079788 carriers developed less symptoms of atopic dermatitis at 3 years of age (p = 0.03).
Polymorphisms in TBX21 and HLX1 influenced primarily IL-5 and IL-13 secretion after LpA-stimulation in cord blood suggesting that genetic variations in the transcription factors essential for the TH1-pathway may contribute to modified TH2-immune responses already early in life. Further follow-up of the cohort is required to study the polymorphisms' relevance for immune-mediated diseases such as childhood asthma.
PMCID: PMC3268767  PMID: 22303482
10.  Study on Occupational Allergy Risks (SOLAR II) in Germany: Design and methods 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:298.
SOLAR II is the 2nd follow-up of a population-based cohort study that follows the participants of ISAAC Phase Two recruited in Munich and Dresden in 1995/6. A first follow-up study was conducted 2002 and 2003 (SOLAR I). The aims of SOLAR II were to investigate the course of atopic diseases over puberty taking environmental and occupational risk factors into account. This paper describes the methods of the 2nd follow-up carried out from 2007 to 2009 and the challenges we faced while studying a population-based cohort of young adults.
Wherever possible, the same questionnaire instruments were used throughout the studies. They included questions on respiratory and allergic diseases, domestic and occupational exposure and work related stress. Furthermore, clinical examinations including skin prick tests, spirometry and bronchial challenge with methacholine, exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) and blood samples were employed at baseline and 2nd follow-up. As information from three studies was available, multiple imputation could be used to handle missing data.
Of the 3053 SOLAR I study participants who had agreed to be contacted again, about 50% had moved in the meantime and had to be traced using phone directories and the German population registries. Overall, 2904 of these participants could be contacted on average five years after the first follow-up. From this group, 2051 subjects (71%) completed the questionnaire they received via mail. Of these, 57% participated at least in some parts of the clinical examinations. Challenges faced included the high mobility of this age group. Time constraints and limited interest in the study were substantial. Analysing the results, selection bias had to be considered as questionnaire responders (54%) and those participating in the clinical part of the study (63%) were more likely to have a high parental level of education compared to non-participants (42%). Similarly, a higher prevalence of parental atopy (e.g. allergic rhinitis) at baseline was found for participants in the questionnaire part (22%) and those participating in the clinical part of the study (27%) compared to non-participants (11%).
In conclusion, a 12-year follow-up from childhood to adulthood is feasible resulting in a response of 32% of the baseline population. However, our experience shows that researchers need to allocate more time to the field work when studying young adults compared to other populations.
PMCID: PMC3118235  PMID: 21569314
11.  Unifying Candidate Gene and GWAS Approaches in Asthma 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13894.
The first genome wide association study (GWAS) for childhood asthma identified a novel major susceptibility locus on chromosome 17q21 harboring the ORMDL3 gene, but the role of previous asthma candidate genes was not specifically analyzed in this GWAS. We systematically identified 89 SNPs in 14 candidate genes previously associated with asthma in >3 independent study populations. We re-genotyped 39 SNPs in these genes not covered by GWAS performed in 703 asthmatics and 658 reference children. Genotyping data were compared to imputation data derived from Illumina HumanHap300 chip genotyping. Results were combined to analyze 566 SNPs covering all 14 candidate gene loci. Genotyped polymorphisms in ADAM33, GSTP1 and VDR showed effects with p-values <0.0035 (corrected for multiple testing). Combining genotyping and imputation, polymorphisms in DPP10, EDN1, IL12B, IL13, IL4, IL4R and TNF showed associations at a significance level between p = 0.05 and p = 0.0035. These data indicate that (a) GWAS coverage is insufficient for many asthma candidate genes, (b) imputation based on these data is reliable but incomplete, and (c) SNPs in three previously identified asthma candidate genes replicate in our GWAS population with significance after correction for multiple testing in 14 genes.
PMCID: PMC2980484  PMID: 21103062
12.  T Regulatory Cells in Cord Blood—FOXP3 Demethylation as Reliable Quantitative Marker 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13267.
Regulatory T-cells (Tregs), characterized as CD4+CD25hi T-cells expressing FOXP3, play a crucial role in controlling healthy immune development during early immune maturation. Recently, FOXP3 demethylation was suggested to be a novel marker for natural Tregs in adults. In cord blood, the role and function of Tregs and its demethylation is poorly understood. We assessed FOXP3 demethylation in cord blood in relation to previously used Treg markers such as CD4+CD25hi, FOXP3 mRNA, protein expression, and suppressive Treg function.
Cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMC) were isolated from 70 healthy neonates, stimulated for 3 days with the microbial stimulus lipid A (LpA), and allergen Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (Derp1). Tregs (CD4+CD25hi, intracellular, mRNA FOXP3 expression, isolated cells), DNA methylation of the FOXP3-locus and suppressive Treg function were assessed.
Principal Findings
Demethylation of FOXP3 in whole blood was specific for isolated CD4+CD25hi Tregs. Demethylation of FOXP3 was positively correlated with unstimulated and LpA-stimulated FOXP3 mRNA-expression (p≤0.05), and CD4+CD25hi T-cells (p≤0.03). Importantly, increased FOXP3 demethylation correlated with more efficient suppressive capacity of Tregs (r = 0.72, p = 0.005). Furthermore, FOXP3 demethylation was positively correlated with Th2 cytokines (IL-5, IL-13) following LpA-stimulation (p = 0.006/0.04), with Th2 and IL-17 following Derp1+LpA-stimulations (p≤0.009), but not Th1 cytokines (IFN-γ).
FOXP3 demethylation reliable quantifies Tregs in cord blood. FOXP3 demethylation corresponds well with the suppressive potential of Tregs. The resulting strict correlation with functionally suppressive Tregs and the relative ease of measurement render it into a valuable novel marker for large field studies assessing Tregs as qualitative marker indicative of functional activity.
PMCID: PMC2953505  PMID: 20967272
13.  Maternal TLR signaling is required for prenatal asthma protection by the nonpathogenic microbe Acinetobacter lwoffii F78 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2009;206(13):2869-2877.
The pre- and postnatal environment may represent a window of opportunity for allergy and asthma prevention, and the hygiene hypothesis implies that microbial agents may play an important role in this regard. Using the cowshed-derived bacterium Acinetobacter lwoffii F78 together with a mouse model of experimental allergic airway inflammation, this study investigated the hygiene hypothesis, maternal (prenatal) microbial exposure, and the involvement of Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling in prenatal protection from asthma. Maternal intranasal exposure to A. lwoffii F78 protected against the development of experimental asthma in the progeny. Maternally, A. lwoffii F78 exposure resulted in a transient increase in lung and serum proinflammatory cytokine production and up-regulation of lung TLR messenger RNA. Conversely, suppression of TLRs was observed in placental tissue. To investigate further, the functional relevance of maternal TLR signaling was tested in TLR2/3/4/7/9−/− knockout mice. The asthma-preventive effect was completely abolished in heterozygous offspring from A. lwoffii F78–treated TLR2/3/4/7/9−/− homozygous mother mice. Furthermore, the mild local and systemic inflammatory response was also absent in these A. lwoffii F78–exposed mothers. These data establish a direct relationship between maternal bacterial exposures, functional maternal TLR signaling, and asthma protection in the progeny.
PMCID: PMC2806458  PMID: 19995952
14.  Exposure to animals and risk of oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis: a multicenter case-control study 
An inverse association between early contact with microbial compounds and respiratory allergies is well established. The protective effect of infant contact with animals was also shown for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). We aimed to test the association between animal contact in infancy and oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (OA JIA).
Parents of children with OA JIA registered at the Hospital for Pediatric Rheumatology in Garmisch-Partenkirchen were asked to complete a questionnaire. Children who underwent strabismus surgery at six referral centers for ophthalmology served as controls. Children age 6 to 18 years born in Germany without malformations were included (238 cases; response 89% and 832 controls; response 86%). Data were analyzed using logistic regression models after adjusting for potential confounders.
Neither place of living (urban vs. rural area), living on a farm, nor regular farm animal (adjusted odds ratio 0.79; 95% confidence interval 0.42-1.47) or pet contact (0.79; 0.55-1.14) during infancy were clearly related to case status. Allergic rhinitis was inversely related to OA JIA (0.57; 0.34-0.95).
Neither place of living (urban vs. rural area), living on a farm, nor regular farm animal (adjusted odds ratio 0.79; 95% confidence interval 0.42-1.47) or pet contact (0.79; 0.55-1.14) during infancy were related to case status. Allergic rhinitis was inversely related to OA JIA (0.57; 0.34-0.95).
Contact with farm environments in infancy might not be associated with OA JIA. This finding is consistent with previous findings for diabetes mellitus type 1 but contradicts results for IBD and SLE.
PMCID: PMC2873462  PMID: 20403210
15.  MMP-9 gene variants increase the risk for non-atopic asthma in children 
Respiratory Research  2010;11(1):23.
Atopic and non-atopic wheezing may be caused by different etiologies: while eosinophils are more important in atopic asthmatic wheezers, neutrophils are predominantly found in BAL samples of young children with wheezing. Both neutrophils as well as eosinophils may secrete matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9). Considering that MMP-9 plays an important role in airway wall thickening and airway inflammation, it may influence the development of obstructive airway phenotypes in children. In the present study we investigated whether genetic variations in MMP-9 influence the development of different forms of childhood asthma.
Genotyping of four HapMap derived tagging SNPs in the MMP-9 gene was performed using MALDI-TOF MS in three cross sectional study populations of German children (age 9-11; N = 4,264) phenotyped for asthma and atopic diseases according to ISAAC standard procedures. Effects of single SNPs and haplotypes were studied using SAS 9.1.3 and Haploview.
SNP rs2664538 significantly increased the risk for non-atopic wheezing (OR 2.12, 95%CI 1.40-3.21, p < 0.001) and non-atopic asthma (OR 1.66, 95%CI 1.12-2.46, p = 0.011). Furthermore, the minor allele of rs3918241 may be associated with decreased expiratory flow measurements in non-atopic children. No significant effects on the development of atopy or total serum IgE levels were observed.
Our results have shown that homozygocity for MMP-9 variants increase the risk to develop non-atopic forms of asthma and wheezing, which may be explained by a functional role of MMP-9 in airway remodeling. These results suggest that different wheezing disorders in childhood are affected differently by genetic alterations.
PMCID: PMC2838833  PMID: 20181264
16.  Genome-Wide Scan on Total Serum IgE Levels Identifies FCER1A as Novel Susceptibility Locus 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(8):e1000166.
High levels of serum IgE are considered markers of parasite and helminth exposure. In addition, they are associated with allergic disorders, play a key role in anti-tumoral defence, and are crucial mediators of autoimmune diseases. Total IgE is a strongly heritable trait. In a genome-wide association study (GWAS), we tested 353,569 SNPs for association with serum IgE levels in 1,530 individuals from the population-based KORA S3/F3 study. Replication was performed in four independent population-based study samples (total n = 9,769 individuals). Functional variants in the gene encoding the alpha chain of the high affinity receptor for IgE (FCER1A) on chromosome 1q23 (rs2251746 and rs2427837) were strongly associated with total IgE levels in all cohorts with P values of 1.85×10−20 and 7.08×10−19 in a combined analysis, and in a post-hoc analysis showed additional associations with allergic sensitization (P = 7.78×10−4 and P = 1.95×10−3). The “top” SNP significantly influenced the cell surface expression of FCER1A on basophils, and genome-wide expression profiles indicated an interesting novel regulatory mechanism of FCER1A expression via GATA-2. Polymorphisms within the RAD50 gene on chromosome 5q31 were consistently associated with IgE levels (P values 6.28×10−7−4.46×10−8) and increased the risk for atopic eczema and asthma. Furthermore, STAT6 was confirmed as susceptibility locus modulating IgE levels. In this first GWAS on total IgE FCER1A was identified and replicated as new susceptibility locus at which common genetic variation influences serum IgE levels. In addition, variants within the RAD50 gene might represent additional factors within cytokine gene cluster on chromosome 5q31, emphasizing the need for further investigations in this intriguing region. Our data furthermore confirm association of STAT6 variation with serum IgE levels.
Author Summary
High levels of serum IgE are considered markers of parasite and helminth exposure. In addition, they are associated with allergic disorders, play a key role in anti-tumoral defence, and are crucial mediators of autoimmune diseases. There is strong evidence that the regulation of serum IgE levels is under a strong genetic control. However, despite numerous loci and candidate genes linked and associated with atopy-related traits, very few have been associated consistently with total IgE. This study describes the first large-scale, genome-wide scan on total IgE. By examining >11,000 German individuals from four independent population-based cohorts, we show that functional variants in the gene encoding the alpha chain of the high affinity receptor for IgE (FCER1A) on chromosome 1q23 are strongly associated with total IgE levels. In addition, our data confirm association of STAT6 variation with serum IgE levels, and suggest that variants within the RAD50 gene might represent additional factors within cytokine gene cluster on chromosome 5q31, emphasizing the need for further investigations in this intriguing region.
PMCID: PMC2565692  PMID: 18846228
17.  Molecular Fingerprinting of the Fecal Microbiota of Children Raised According to Different Lifestyles▿ †  
In this population-based study, 90 children from three European countries were examined to determine the impact of lifestyle on the fecal microbiota. The study was designed to assess the impact of two extreme lifestyles that we hypothesized could impact the microbial composition in the gut: i.e., an anthroposophic lifestyle (restricted use of antibiotics, greater consumption of fermented vegetables, etc.) versus living on a farm (greater consumption of farm milk, contact with animals, etc.). In previous studies, these lifestyles correlated with lower prevalence of allergies. Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) was used to assess the bacterial composition in fecal samples since recent studies have shown that the majority of this community cannot be cultivated. The T-RFLP data were used to calculate richness and evenness of the fecal microbiota. Children that were attending Steiner schools (anthroposophic children) had a significantly higher diversity of microbes in their feces than farm children, who in turn also had lower diversity than the control groups. Specific primers were also used to focus on the Lactobacillus-like community (lactic acid bacteria [LAB]). Large differences were found in the LAB subpopulations in the sampled groups. In some children, the LAB subpopulation was dominated by a species that has not yet been cultivated.
PMCID: PMC1855685  PMID: 17293501
18.  The role of polymorphisms in ADAM33, a disintegrin and metalloprotease 33, in childhood asthma and lung function in two German populations 
Respiratory Research  2006;7(1):91.
ADAM33, the first asthma candidate gene identified by positional cloning, may be associated with childhood asthma, lung function decline and bronchial hyperresponsiveness. However, replication results have been inconclusive in smaller previous study populations probably due to inconsistencies in asthma phenotypes or yet unknown environmental influences. Thus, we tried to further elucidate the role of ADAM33 polymorphisms (SNPs) in a genetic analysis of German case control and longitudinal populations.
Using MALDI-TOF, ten ADAM33 SNPs were genotyped in 1,872 children from the International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood (ISAAC II) in a case control setting and further 824 children from the longitudinal cohort Multicentre Study of Allergy (MAS). In both populations the effects of single SNPs and haplotypes were studied and a gene environment analysis with passive smoke exposure was performed using SAS/Genetics.
No single SNP showed a significant association with doctor's diagnosis of asthma. A trend for somewhat more profound effects of ADAM33 SNPs was observed in individuals with asthma and BHR. Haplotype analyses suggested a minor effect of the ADAM33 haplotype H4 on asthma (p = 0.033) but not on BHR. Associations with non atopic asthma and baseline lung function were identified but no interaction with passive smoke exposure could be detected.
The originally reported association between ADAM33 polymorphisms and asthma and BHR could not be confirmed. However, our data may suggest a complex role of ADAM33 polymorphisms in asthma ethiology, especially in non atopic asthma.
PMCID: PMC1550399  PMID: 16784537
19.  Factors associated with difference in prevalence of asthma in children from three cities in China: multicentre epidemiological survey  
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2004;329(7464):486.
Objective To determine the factors associated with difference in prevalence of asthma in children in different regions of China.
Design Multicentre epidemiological survey.
Setting Three cities in China.
Participants 10 902 schoolchildren aged 10 years.
Main outcome measures Asthma and atopic symptoms, atopic sensitisation, and early and current exposure to environmental factors.
Results Children from Hong Kong had a significantly higher prevalence of wheeze in the past year than those from Guangzhou and Beijing (odds ratio 1.64, 95% confidence interval 1.35 to 1.99). Factors during the first year of life and currently that were significantly associated with wheeze were cooking with gas (odds ratio 2.04, 1.34 to 3.13), foam pillows (2.58, 1.66 to 3.99), and damp housing (1.89, 1.26 to 2.83). Factors protecting against wheeze were cotton quilts and the consumption of fruit and raw vegetables.
Conclusion Environmental factors and diet may explain the differences in prevalence of asthma between children living in different regions of China.
PMCID: PMC515199  PMID: 15331473
20.  Early childhood infectious diseases and the development of asthma up to school age: a birth cohort study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2001;322(7283):390-395.
To investigate the association between early childhood infections and subsequent development of asthma.
Longitudinal birth cohort study.
Five children's hospitals in five German cities.
1314 children born in 1990 followed from birth to the age of 7 years.
Main outcome measures
Asthma and asthmatic symptoms assessed longitudinally by parental questionnaires; atopic sensitisation assessed longitudinally by determination of IgE concentrations to various allergens; bronchial hyperreactivity assessed by bronchial histamine challenge at age 7 years.
Compared with children with ⩽1 episode of runny nose before the age of 1 year, those with ⩾2 episodes were less likely to have a doctor's diagnosis of asthma at 7 years old (odds ratio 0.52 (95% confidence interval 0.29 to 0.92)) or to have wheeze at 7 years old (0.60 (0.38 to 0.94)), and were less likely to be atopic before the age of 5 years. Similarly, having ⩾1 viral infection of the herpes type in the first 3 years of life was inversely associated with asthma at age 7 (odds ratio 0.48 (0.26 to 0.89)). Repeated lower respiratory tract infections in the first 3 years of life showed a positive association with wheeze up to the age of 7 years (odds ratio 3.37 (1.92 to 5.92) for ⩾4 infections v ⩽3 infections).
Repeated viral infections other than lower respiratory tract infections early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma up to school age.
PMCID: PMC26566  PMID: 11179155
21.  Breast feeding and obesity: cross sectional study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1999;319(7203):147-150.
To assess the impact of breast feeding on the risk of obesity and risk of being overweight in children at the time of entry to school.
Cross sectional survey
Bavaria, southern Germany.
Routine data were collected on the height and weight of 134 577 children participating in the obligatory health examination at the time of school entry in Bavaria. In a subsample of 13 345 children, early feeding, diet, and lifestyle factors were assessed using responses to a questionnaire completed by parents.
9357 children aged 5 and 6 who had German nationality.
Main outcome measures
Being overweight was defined as having a body mass index above the 90th centile and obesity was defined as body mass index above the 97th centile of all enrolled German children. Exclusive breast feeding was defined as the child being fed no food other than breast milk.
The prevalence of obesity in children who had never been breast fed was 4.5% as compared with 2.8% in breastfed children. A clear dose-response effect was identified for the duration of breast feeding on the prevalence of obesity: the prevalence was 3.8% for 2 months of exclusive breast feeding, 2.3% for 3-5 months, 1.7% for 6-12 months, and 0.8% for more than 12 months. Similar relations were found with the prevalence of being overweight. The protective effect of breast feeding was not attributable to differences in social class or lifestyle. After adjusting for potential confounding factors, breast feeding remained a significant protective factor against the development of obesity (odds ratio 0.75, 95% CI 0.57 to 0.98) and being overweight (0.79, 0.68 to 0.93).
In industrialised countries promoting prolonged breast feeding may help decrease the prevalence of obesity in childhood. Since obese children have a high risk of becoming obese adults, such preventive measures may eventually result in a reduction in the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases and other diseases related to obesity.
Key messagesObesity is the most frequent nutritional disorder in children, and is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease in adulthood Preventing obesity in children should be a useful strategy in preventing later heart disease because weight loss interventions in obese children are costly and rarely successfulData from a cross sectional study in Bavaria suggest that the risk of obesity in children at the time of school entry can be reduced by breast feeding: a 35% reduction occurs if children are breastfed for 3 to 5 monthsPreventing obesity and its consequences may be an important argument in the drive to encourage breast feeding in industrialised countries
PMCID: PMC28161  PMID: 10406746

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