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1.  Histone Modifications in a Mouse Model of Early Adversities and Panic Disorder: Role for Asic1 and Neurodevelopmental Genes 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:25131.
Hyperventilation following transient, CO2-induced acidosis is ubiquitous in mammals and heritable. In humans, respiratory and emotional hypersensitivity to CO2 marks separation anxiety and panic disorders, and is enhanced by early-life adversities. Mice exposed to the repeated cross-fostering paradigm (RCF) of interference with maternal environment show heightened separation anxiety and hyperventilation to 6% CO2-enriched air. Gene-environment interactions affect CO2 hypersensitivity in both humans and mice. We therefore hypothesised that epigenetic modifications and increased expression of genes involved in pH-detection could explain these relationships. Medullae oblongata of RCF- and normally-reared female outbred mice were assessed by ChIP-seq for H3Ac, H3K4me3, H3K27me3 histone modifications, and by SAGE for differential gene expression. Integration of multiple experiments by network analysis revealed an active component of 148 genes pointing to the mTOR signalling pathway and nociception. Among these genes, Asic1 showed heightened mRNA expression, coherent with RCF-mice’s respiratory hypersensitivity to CO2 and altered nociception. Functional enrichment and mRNA transcript analyses yielded a consistent picture of enhancement for several genes affecting chemoception, neurodevelopment, and emotionality. Particularly, results with Asic1 support recent human findings with panic and CO2 responses, and provide new perspectives on how early adversities and genes interplay to affect key components of panic and related disorders.
PMCID: PMC4848503  PMID: 27121911
2.  Revealing the acute asthma ignorome: characterization and validation of uninvestigated gene networks 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:24647.
Systems biology provides opportunities to fully understand the genes and pathways in disease pathogenesis. We used literature knowledge and unbiased multiple data meta-analysis paradigms to analyze microarray datasets across different mouse strains and acute allergic asthma models. Our combined gene-driven and pathway-driven strategies generated a stringent signature list totaling 933 genes with 41% (440) asthma-annotated genes and 59% (493) ignorome genes, not previously associated with asthma. Within the list, we identified inflammation, circadian rhythm, lung-specific insult response, stem cell proliferation domains, hubs, peripheral genes, and super-connectors that link the biological domains (Il6, Il1ß, Cd4, Cd44, Stat1, Traf6, Rela, Cadm1, Nr3c1, Prkcd, Vwf, Erbb2). In conclusion, this novel bioinformatics approach will be a powerful strategy for clinical and across species data analysis that allows for the validation of experimental models and might lead to the discovery of novel mechanistic insights in asthma.
PMCID: PMC4838989  PMID: 27097888
4.  Epigenomics of Neural Cells: REST-Induced Down- and Upregulation of Gene Expression in a Two-Clone PC12 Cell Model 
BioMed Research International  2015;2015:202914.
Cell epigenomics depends on the marks released by transcription factors operating via the assembly of complexes that induce focal changes of DNA and histone structure. Among these factors is REST, a repressor that, via its strong decrease, governs both neuronal and neural cell differentiation and specificity. REST operation on thousands of possible genes can occur directly or via indirect mechanisms including repression of other factors. In previous studies of gene down- and upregulation, processes had been only partially investigated in neural cells. PC12 are well-known neural cells sharing properties with neurons. In the widely used PC12 populations, low-REST cells coexist with few, spontaneous high-REST PC12 cells. High- and low-REST PC12 clones were employed to investigate the role and the mechanisms of the repressor action. Among 15,500 expressed genes we identified 1,770 target and nontarget, REST-dependent genes. Functionally, these genes were found to operate in many pathways, from synaptic function to extracellular matrix. Mechanistically, downregulated genes were predominantly repressed directly by REST; upregulated genes were mostly governed indirectly. Among other factors, Polycomb complexes cooperated with REST for downregulation, and Smad3 and Myod1 participated in upregulation. In conclusion, we have highlighted that PC12 clones are a useful model to investigate REST, opening opportunities to development of epigenomic investigation.
PMCID: PMC4564578  PMID: 26413508
5.  Impact of MS genetic loci on familial aggregation, clinical phenotype, and disease prediction 
To investigate the role of known multiple sclerosis (MS)-associated genetic variants in MS familial aggregation, clinical expression, and accuracy of disease prediction in sporadic and familial cases.
A total of 1,443 consecutive patients were screened for MS and familial autoimmune history in a hospital-based Italian cohort. Among them, 461 sporadic and 93 familial probands were genotyped for 107 MS-associated polymorphisms. Their effect sizes were combined to calculate the weighted genetic risk score (wGRS).
Family history of MS was reported by 17.2% of probands, and 33.8% reported a familial autoimmune disorder, with autoimmune thyroiditis and psoriasis being the most frequent. No difference in wGRS was observed between sporadic and familial MS cases. In contrast, a lower wGRS was observed in probands with greater familial aggregation (>1 first-degree relative or >2 relatives with MS) (p = 0.03). Also, female probands of familial cases with greater familial aggregation had a lower wGRS than sporadic cases (p = 0.0009) and male probands of familial cases (p = 0.04). An inverse correlation between wGRS and age at onset was observed (p = 0.05). The predictive performance of the genetic model including all known MS variants was modest but greater in sporadic vs familial cases (area under the curve = 0.63 and 0.57).
Additional variants outside the known MS-associated loci, rare variants, and/or environmental factors may explain disease occurrence within families; in females, hormonal and epigenetic factors probably have a predominant role in explaining familial aggregation. The inclusion of these additional factors in future versions of aggregated genetic measures could improve their predictive ability.
PMCID: PMC4503410  PMID: 26185776
6.  The BioMart community portal: an innovative alternative to large, centralized data repositories 
Smedley, Damian | Haider, Syed | Durinck, Steffen | Pandini, Luca | Provero, Paolo | Allen, James | Arnaiz, Olivier | Awedh, Mohammad Hamza | Baldock, Richard | Barbiera, Giulia | Bardou, Philippe | Beck, Tim | Blake, Andrew | Bonierbale, Merideth | Brookes, Anthony J. | Bucci, Gabriele | Buetti, Iwan | Burge, Sarah | Cabau, Cédric | Carlson, Joseph W. | Chelala, Claude | Chrysostomou, Charalambos | Cittaro, Davide | Collin, Olivier | Cordova, Raul | Cutts, Rosalind J. | Dassi, Erik | Genova, Alex Di | Djari, Anis | Esposito, Anthony | Estrella, Heather | Eyras, Eduardo | Fernandez-Banet, Julio | Forbes, Simon | Free, Robert C. | Fujisawa, Takatomo | Gadaleta, Emanuela | Garcia-Manteiga, Jose M. | Goodstein, David | Gray, Kristian | Guerra-Assunção, José Afonso | Haggarty, Bernard | Han, Dong-Jin | Han, Byung Woo | Harris, Todd | Harshbarger, Jayson | Hastings, Robert K. | Hayes, Richard D. | Hoede, Claire | Hu, Shen | Hu, Zhi-Liang | Hutchins, Lucie | Kan, Zhengyan | Kawaji, Hideya | Keliet, Aminah | Kerhornou, Arnaud | Kim, Sunghoon | Kinsella, Rhoda | Klopp, Christophe | Kong, Lei | Lawson, Daniel | Lazarevic, Dejan | Lee, Ji-Hyun | Letellier, Thomas | Li, Chuan-Yun | Lio, Pietro | Liu, Chu-Jun | Luo, Jie | Maass, Alejandro | Mariette, Jerome | Maurel, Thomas | Merella, Stefania | Mohamed, Azza Mostafa | Moreews, Francois | Nabihoudine, Ibounyamine | Ndegwa, Nelson | Noirot, Céline | Perez-Llamas, Cristian | Primig, Michael | Quattrone, Alessandro | Quesneville, Hadi | Rambaldi, Davide | Reecy, James | Riba, Michela | Rosanoff, Steven | Saddiq, Amna Ali | Salas, Elisa | Sallou, Olivier | Shepherd, Rebecca | Simon, Reinhard | Sperling, Linda | Spooner, William | Staines, Daniel M. | Steinbach, Delphine | Stone, Kevin | Stupka, Elia | Teague, Jon W. | Dayem Ullah, Abu Z. | Wang, Jun | Ware, Doreen | Wong-Erasmus, Marie | Youens-Clark, Ken | Zadissa, Amonida | Zhang, Shi-Jian | Kasprzyk, Arek
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;43(Web Server issue):W589-W598.
The BioMart Community Portal ( is a community-driven effort to provide a unified interface to biomedical databases that are distributed worldwide. The portal provides access to numerous database projects supported by 30 scientific organizations. It includes over 800 different biological datasets spanning genomics, proteomics, model organisms, cancer data, ontology information and more. All resources available through the portal are independently administered and funded by their host organizations. The BioMart data federation technology provides a unified interface to all the available data. The latest version of the portal comes with many new databases that have been created by our ever-growing community. It also comes with better support and extensibility for data analysis and visualization tools. A new addition to our toolbox, the enrichment analysis tool is now accessible through graphical and web service interface. The BioMart community portal averages over one million requests per day. Building on this level of service and the wealth of information that has become available, the BioMart Community Portal has introduced a new, more scalable and cheaper alternative to the large data stores maintained by specialized organizations.
PMCID: PMC4489294  PMID: 25897122
7.  The kinetochore protein, CENPF, is mutated in human ciliopathy and microcephaly phenotypes 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2015;52(3):147-156.
Mutations in microtubule-regulating genes are associated with disorders of neuronal migration and microcephaly. Regulation of centriole length has been shown to underlie the pathogenesis of certain ciliopathy phenotypes. Using a next-generation sequencing approach, we identified mutations in a novel centriolar disease gene in a kindred with an embryonic lethal ciliopathy phenotype and in a patient with primary microcephaly.
Methods and results
Whole exome sequencing data from a non-consanguineous Caucasian kindred exhibiting mid-gestation lethality and ciliopathic malformations revealed two novel non-synonymous variants in CENPF, a microtubule-regulating gene. All four affected fetuses showed segregation for two mutated alleles [IVS5-2A>C, predicted to abolish the consensus splice-acceptor site from exon 6; c.1744G>T, p.E582X]. In a second unrelated patient exhibiting microcephaly, we identified two CENPF mutations [c.1744G>T, p.E582X; c.8692 C>T, p.R2898X] by whole exome sequencing. We found that CENP-F colocalised with Ninein at the subdistal appendages of the mother centriole in mouse inner medullary collecting duct cells. Intraflagellar transport protein-88 (IFT-88) colocalised with CENP-F along the ciliary axonemes of renal epithelial cells in age-matched control human fetuses but did not in truncated cilia of mutant CENPF kidneys. Pairwise co-immunoprecipitation assays of mitotic and serum-starved HEKT293 cells confirmed that IFT88 precipitates with endogenous CENP-F.
Our data identify CENPF as a new centriolar disease gene implicated in severe human ciliopathy and microcephaly related phenotypes. CENP-F has a novel putative function in ciliogenesis and cortical neurogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4345935  PMID: 25564561
Clinical genetics; Molecular genetics; CENPF; Ciliopathy; Microcephaly
8.  REST-Governed Gene Expression Profiling in a Neuronal Cell Model Reveals Novel Direct and Indirect Processes of Repression and Up-Regulation 
The role of REST changes in neurons, including the rapid decrease of its level during differentiation and its fluctuations during many mature functions and diseases, is well established. However, identification of many thousand possible REST-target genes, mostly based on indirect criteria, and demonstration of their operative dependence on the repressor have been established for only a relatively small fraction. In the present study, starting from our recently published work, we have expanded the identification of REST-dependent genes, investigated in two clones of the PC12 line, a recognized neuronal cell model, spontaneously expressing different levels of REST: very low as in neurons and much higher as in most non-neural cells. The molecular, structural and functional differences of the two PC12 clones were shown to depend largely on their different REST level and the ensuing variable expression of some dependent genes. Comprehensive RNA-Seq analyses of the 13,700 genes expressed, validated by parallel RT-PCR and western analyses of mRNAs and encoded proteins, identified in the high-REST clone two groups of almost 900 repressed and up-regulated genes. Repression is often due to direct binding of REST to target genes; up-regulation to indirect mechanism(s) mostly mediated by REST repression of repressive transcription factors. Most, but not all, genes governing neurosecretion, excitability, and receptor channel signaling were repressed in the high REST clone. The genes governing expression of non-channel receptors (G protein-coupled and others), although variably affected, were often up-regulated together with the genes of intracellular kinases, small G proteins, cytoskeleton, cell adhesion, and extracellular matrix proteins. Expression of REST-dependent genes governing functions other than those mentioned so far were also identified. The results obtained by the parallel investigation of the two PC12 clones revealed the complexity of the REST molecular and functional role, deciphering new aspects of its participation in neuronal functions. The new findings could be relevant for further investigation and interpretation of physiological processes typical of neurons. Moreover, they could be employed as tools in the study of neuronal diseases recently shown to depend on REST for their development.
PMCID: PMC4639699  PMID: 26617488
RNA-Seq; PC12 clones; different REST levels; cooperative transcription factors; differential gene expression; gene repression and up-regulation
9.  ARNT2 mutation causes hypopituitarism, post-natal microcephaly, visual and renal anomalies 
Brain  2013;136(10):3096-3105.
We describe a previously unreported syndrome characterized by secondary (post-natal) microcephaly with fronto-temporal lobe hypoplasia, multiple pituitary hormone deficiency, seizures, severe visual impairment and abnormalities of the kidneys and urinary tract in a highly consanguineous family with six affected children. Homozygosity mapping and exome sequencing revealed a novel homozygous frameshift mutation in the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor gene ARNT2 (c.1373_1374dupTC) in affected individuals. This mutation results in absence of detectable levels of ARNT2 transcript and protein from patient fibroblasts compared with controls, consistent with nonsense-mediated decay of the mutant transcript and loss of ARNT2 function. We also show expression of ARNT2 within the central nervous system, including the hypothalamus, as well as the renal tract during human embryonic development. The progressive neurological abnormalities, congenital hypopituitarism and post-retinal visual pathway dysfunction in affected individuals demonstrates for the first time the essential role of ARNT2 in the development of the hypothalamo-pituitary axis, post-natal brain growth, and visual and renal function in humans.
PMCID: PMC3784281  PMID: 24022475
hypothalamus; congenital blindness; brain development; molecular genetics; malformations of cortical development
10.  VISPA: a computational pipeline for the identification and analysis of genomic vector integration sites 
Genome Medicine  2014;6(9):67.
The analysis of the genomic distribution of viral vector genomic integration sites is a key step in hematopoietic stem cell-based gene therapy applications, allowing to assess both the safety and the efficacy of the treatment and to study the basic aspects of hematopoiesis and stem cell biology. Identifying vector integration sites requires ad-hoc bioinformatics tools with stringent requirements in terms of computational efficiency, flexibility, and usability. We developed VISPA (Vector Integration Site Parallel Analysis), a pipeline for automated integration site identification and annotation based on a distributed environment with a simple Galaxy web interface. VISPA was successfully used for the bioinformatics analysis of the follow-up of two lentiviral vector-based hematopoietic stem-cell gene therapy clinical trials. Our pipeline provides a reliable and efficient tool to assess the safety and efficacy of integrating vectors in clinical settings.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13073-014-0067-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4169225  PMID: 25342980
11.  Integrated genomic analysis identifies recurrent mutations and evolution patterns driving the initiation and progression of follicular lymphoma 
Nature genetics  2013;46(2):176-181.
Follicular lymphoma (FL) is an incurable malignancy1, with transformation to an aggressive subtype being a critical event during disease progression. Here we performed whole genome or exome sequencing on 10 FL-transformed FL pairs, followed by deep sequencing of 28 genes in an extension cohort and report the key events and evolutionary processes governing initiation and transformation. Tumor evolution occurred through either a ‘rich’ or ‘sparse’ ancestral common progenitor clone (CPC). We identified recurrent mutations in linker histones, JAK-STAT signaling, NF-κB signaling and B-cell development genes. Longitudinal analyses revealed chromatin regulators (CREBBP, EZH2 and MLL2) as early driver genes, whilst mutations in EBF1 and regulators of NF-κB signaling (MYD88 and TNFAIP3) were gained at transformation. Collectively, this study provides novel insights into the genetic basis of follicular lymphoma, the clonal dynamics of transformation and suggests that personalizing therapies to target key genetic alterations within the CPC represents an attractive therapeutic strategy.
PMCID: PMC3907271  PMID: 24362818
12.  The combination of transcriptomics and informatics identifies pathways targeted by miR-204 during neurogenesis and axon guidance 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(12):7793-7806.
Vertebrate organogenesis is critically sensitive to gene dosage and even subtle variations in the expression levels of key genes may result in a variety of tissue anomalies. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are fundamental regulators of gene expression and their role in vertebrate tissue patterning is just beginning to be elucidated. To gain further insight into this issue, we analysed the transcriptomic consequences of manipulating the expression of miR-204 in the Medaka fish model system. We used RNA-Seq and an innovative bioinformatics approach, which combines conventional differential expression analysis with the behavior expected by miR-204 targets after its overexpression and knockdown. With this approach combined with a correlative analysis of the putative targets, we identified a wider set of miR-204 target genes belonging to different pathways. Together, these approaches confirmed that miR-204 has a key role in eye development and further highlighted its putative function in neural differentiation processes, including axon guidance as supported by in vivo functional studies. Together, our results demonstrate the advantage of integrating next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics approaches to investigate miRNA biology and provide new important information on the role of miRNAs in the control of axon guidance and more broadly in nervous system development.
PMCID: PMC4081098  PMID: 24895435
13.  Genome-wide signatures of convergent evolution in echolocating mammals 
Nature  2013;502(7470):10.1038/nature12511.
Evolution is typically thought to proceed through divergence of genes, proteins, and ultimately phenotypes1-3. However, similar traits might also evolve convergently in unrelated taxa due to similar selection pressures4,5. Adaptive phenotypic convergence is widespread in nature, and recent results from a handful of genes have suggested that this phenomenon is powerful enough to also drive recurrent evolution at the sequence level6-9. Where homoplasious substitutions do occur these have long been considered the result of neutral processes. However, recent studies have demonstrated that adaptive convergent sequence evolution can be detected in vertebrates using statistical methods that model parallel evolution9,10 although the extent to which sequence convergence between genera occurs across genomes is unknown. Here we analyse genomic sequence data in mammals that have independently evolved echolocation and show for the first time that convergence is not a rare process restricted to a handful of loci but is instead widespread, continuously distributed and commonly driven by natural selection acting on a small number of sites per locus. Systematic analyses of convergent sequence evolution in 805,053 amino acids within 2,326 orthologous coding gene sequences compared across 22 mammals (including four new bat genomes) revealed signatures consistent with convergence in nearly 200 loci. Strong and significant support for convergence among bats and the dolphin was seen in numerous genes linked to hearing or deafness, consistent with an involvement in echolocation. Surprisingly we also found convergence in many genes linked to vision: the convergent signal of many sensory genes was robustly correlated with the strength of natural selection. This first attempt to detect genome-wide convergent sequence evolution across divergent taxa reveals the phenomenon to be much more pervasive than previously recognised.
PMCID: PMC3836225  PMID: 24005325
14.  Genome Wide Identification of Aberrant Alternative Splicing Events in Myotonic Dystrophy Type 2 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93983.
Myotonic dystrophy type 2 (DM2) is a genetic, autosomal dominant disease due to expansion of tetraplet (CCTG) repetitions in the first intron of the ZNF9/CNBP gene. DM2 is a multisystemic disorder affecting the skeletal muscle, the heart, the eye and the endocrine system. According to the proposed pathological mechanism, the expanded tetraplets have an RNA toxic effect, disrupting the splicing of many mRNAs. Thus, the identification of aberrantly spliced transcripts is instrumental for our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning the disease. The aim of this study was the identification of new aberrant alternative splicing events in DM2 patients. By genome wide analysis of 10 DM2 patients and 10 controls (CTR), we identified 273 alternative spliced exons in 218 genes. While many aberrant splicing events were already identified in the past, most were new. A subset of these events was validated by qPCR assays in 19 DM2 and 15 CTR subjects. To gain insight into the molecular pathways involving the identified aberrantly spliced genes, we performed a bioinformatics analysis with Ingenuity system. This analysis indicated a deregulation of development, cell survival, metabolism, calcium signaling and contractility. In conclusion, our genome wide analysis provided a database of aberrant splicing events in the skeletal muscle of DM2 patients. The affected genes are involved in numerous pathways and networks important for muscle physio-pathology, suggesting that the identified variants may contribute to DM2 pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3983107  PMID: 24722564
15.  Dissecting the signaling pathways associated with the oncogenic activity of MLK3 P252H mutation 
BMC Cancer  2014;14:182.
MLK3 gene mutations were described to occur in about 20% of microsatellite unstable gastrointestinal cancers and to harbor oncogenic activity. In particular, mutation P252H, located in the kinase domain, was found to have a strong transforming potential, and to promote the growth of highly invasive tumors when subcutaneously injected in nude mice. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanism underlying the oncogenic activity of P252H mutant remained elusive.
In this work, we performed Illumina Whole Genome arrays on three biological replicas of human HEK293 cells stably transfected with the wild-type MLK3, the P252H mutation and with the empty vector (Mock) in order to identify the putative signaling pathways associated with P252H mutation.
Our microarray results showed that mutant MLK3 deregulates several important colorectal cancer- associated signaling pathways such as WNT, MAPK, NOTCH, TGF-beta and p53, helping to narrow down the number of potential MLK3 targets responsible for its oncogenic effects. A more detailed analysis of the alterations affecting the WNT signaling pathway revealed a down-regulation of molecules involved in the canonical pathway, such as DVL2, LEF1, CCND1 and c-Myc, and an up-regulation of DKK, a well-known negative regulator of canonical WNT signaling, in MLK3 mutant cells. Additionally, FZD6 and FZD10 genes, known to act as negative regulators of the canonical WNT signaling cascade and as positive regulators of the planar cell polarity (PCP) pathway, a non-canonic WNT pathway, were found to be up-regulated in P252H cells.
The results provide an overall view of the expression profile associated with mutant MLK3, and they support the functional role of mutant MLK3 by showing a deregulation of several signaling pathways known to play important roles in the development and progression of colorectal cancer. The results also suggest that mutant MLK3 may be a novel modulator of WNT signaling, and pinpoint the activation of PCP pathway as a possible mechanism underlying the invasive potential of MLK3 mutant cells.
PMCID: PMC3995575  PMID: 24628919
Colorectal cancer; MLK3; WNT pathway; MSI; Planar cell polarity
16.  Mutation of SALL2 causes recessive ocular coloboma in humans and mice 
Human Molecular Genetics  2014;23(10):2511-2526.
Ocular coloboma is a congenital defect resulting from failure of normal closure of the optic fissure during embryonic eye development. This birth defect causes childhood blindness worldwide, yet the genetic etiology is poorly understood. Here, we identified a novel homozygous mutation in the SALL2 gene in members of a consanguineous family affected with non-syndromic ocular coloboma variably affecting the iris and retina. This mutation, c.85G>T, introduces a premature termination codon (p.Glu29*) predicted to truncate the SALL2 protein so that it lacks three clusters of zinc-finger motifs that are essential for DNA-binding activity. This discovery identifies SALL2 as the third member of the Drosophila homeotic Spalt-like family of developmental transcription factor genes implicated in human disease. SALL2 is expressed in the developing human retina at the time of, and subsequent to, optic fissure closure. Analysis of Sall2-deficient mouse embryos revealed delayed apposition of the optic fissure margins and the persistence of an anterior retinal coloboma phenotype after birth. Sall2-deficient embryos displayed correct posterior closure toward the optic nerve head, and upon contact of the fissure margins, dissolution of the basal lamina occurred and PAX2, known to be critical for this process, was expressed normally. Anterior closure was disrupted with the fissure margins failing to meet, or in some cases misaligning leading to a retinal lesion. These observations demonstrate, for the first time, a role for SALL2 in eye morphogenesis and that loss of function of the gene causes ocular coloboma in humans and mice.
PMCID: PMC3990155  PMID: 24412933
17.  Genome-Wide Methylation and Gene Expression Changes in Newborn Rats following Maternal Protein Restriction and Reversal by Folic Acid 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82989.
A large body of evidence from human and animal studies demonstrates that the maternal diet during pregnancy can programme physiological and metabolic functions in the developing fetus, effectively determining susceptibility to later disease. The mechanistic basis of such programming is unclear but may involve resetting of epigenetic marks and fetal gene expression. The aim of this study was to evaluate genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression in the livers of newborn rats exposed to maternal protein restriction. On day one postnatally, there were 618 differentially expressed genes and 1183 differentially methylated regions (FDR 5%). The functional analysis of differentially expressed genes indicated a significant effect on DNA repair/cycle/maintenance functions and of lipid, amino acid metabolism and circadian functions. Enrichment for known biological functions was found to be associated with differentially methylated regions. Moreover, these epigenetically altered regions overlapped genetic loci associated with metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Both expression changes and DNA methylation changes were largely reversed by supplementing the protein restricted diet with folic acid. Although the epigenetic and gene expression signatures appeared to underpin largely different biological processes, the gene expression profile of DNA methyl transferases was altered, providing a potential link between the two molecular signatures. The data showed that maternal protein restriction is associated with widespread differential gene expression and DNA methylation across the genome, and that folic acid is able to reset both molecular signatures.
PMCID: PMC3877003  PMID: 24391732
18.  Characterization of the intronic portion of cadherin superfamily members, common cancer orchestrators 
Cadherins are cell–cell adhesion proteins essential for the maintenance of tissue architecture and integrity, and their impairment is often associated with human cancer. Knowledge regarding regulatory mechanisms associated with cadherin misexpression in cancer is scarce. Specific features of the intronic-structure and intronic-based regulatory mechanisms in the cadherin superfamily are unidentified. This study aims at systematically characterizing the intronic portion of cadherin superfamily members and the identification of intronic regions constituting putative targets/triggers of regulation, using a bioinformatic approach and biological data mining. Our study demonstrates that the cadherin superfamily genes harbour specific characteristics in comparison to all non-cadherin genes, both from the genomic and transcriptional standpoints. Cadherin superfamily genes display higher average total intron number and significantly longer introns than other genes and across the entire vertebrate lineage. Moreover, in the human genome, we observed an uncommon high frequency of MIR (mammalian-wide interspersed repeats) and MaLR (mammalian-wide interspersed repeats, a subtype of LTR) regulatory-associated repetitive elements at 5′-located introns, concomitantly with increased de novo intronic transcription. Using this approach, we identified cadherin intronic-specific sites that may constitute novel targets/triggers of cadherin superfamily expression regulation. These findings pinpoint the need to identify mechanisms affecting particularly MIR and MaLR elements located in introns 2 and 3 of human cadherin genes, possibly important in the expression modulation of this superfamily in homeostasis and cancer.
PMCID: PMC3400724  PMID: 22317972
cadherin; cancer; intronic-based regulatory elements; MIR; MaLR; transcription
19.  A Strong Anti-Inflammatory Signature Revealed by Liver Transcription Profiling of Tmprss6−/− Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69694.
Control of systemic iron homeostasis is interconnected with the inflammatory response through the key iron regulator, the antimicrobial peptide hepcidin. We have previously shown that mice with iron deficiency anemia (IDA)-low hepcidin show a pro-inflammatory response that is blunted in iron deficient-high hepcidin Tmprss6 KO mice. The transcriptional response associated with chronic hepcidin overexpression due to genetic inactivation of Tmprss6 is unknown. By using whole genome transcription profiling of the liver and analysis of spleen immune-related genes we identified several functional pathways differentially expressed in Tmprss6 KO mice, compared to IDA animals and thus irrespective of the iron status. In the effort of defining genes potentially targets of Tmprss6 we analyzed liver gene expression changes according to the genotype and independently of treatment. Tmprss6 inactivation causes down-regulation of liver pathways connected to immune and inflammatory response as well as spleen genes related to macrophage activation and inflammatory cytokines production. The anti-inflammatory status of Tmprss6 KO animals was confirmed by the down-regulation of pathways related to immunity, stress response and intracellular signaling in both liver and spleen after LPS treatment. Opposite to Tmprss6 KO mice, Hfe−/− mice are characterized by iron overload with inappropriately low hepcidin levels. Liver expression profiling of Hfe−/− deficient versus iron loaded mice show the opposite expression of some of the genes modulated by the loss of Tmprss6. Altogether our results confirm the anti-inflammatory status of Tmprss6 KO mice and identify new potential target pathways/genes of Tmprss6.
PMCID: PMC3726786  PMID: 23922777
20.  Social Epigenetics and Equality of Opportunity 
Public Health Ethics  2013;6(2):142-153.
Recent epidemiological reports of associations between socioeconomic status and epigenetic markers that predict vulnerability to diseases are bringing to light substantial biological effects of social inequalities. Here, we start the discussion of the moral consequences of these findings. We firstly highlight their explanatory importance in the context of the research program on the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) and the social determinants of health. In the second section, we review some theories of the moral status of health inequalities. Rather than a complete outline of the debate, we single out those theories that rest on the principle of equality of opportunity and analyze the consequences of DOHaD and epigenetics for these particular conceptions of justice. We argue that DOHaD and epigenetics reshape the conceptual distinction between natural and acquired traits on which these theories rely and might provide important policy tools to tackle unjust distributions of health.
PMCID: PMC3712403  PMID: 23864907
21.  An autoinflammatory neurological disease due to interleukin 6 hypersecretion 
Autoinflammatory diseases are rare illnesses characterized by apparently unprovoked inflammation without high-titer auto-antibodies or antigen-specific T cells. They may cause neurological manifestations, such as meningitis and hearing loss, but they are also characterized by non-neurological manifestations. In this work we studied a 30-year-old man who had a chronic disease characterized by meningitis, progressive hearing loss, persistently raised inflammatory markers and diffuse leukoencephalopathy on brain MRI. He also suffered from chronic recurrent osteomyelitis of the mandible. The hypothesis of an autoinflammatory disease prompted us to test for the presence of mutations in interleukin-1−pathway genes and to investigate the function of this pathway in the mononuclear cells obtained from the patient. Search for mutations in genes associated with interleukin-1−pathway demonstrated a novel NLRP3 (CIAS1) mutation (p.I288M) and a previously described MEFV mutation (p.R761H), but their combination was found to be non-pathogenic. On the other hand, we uncovered a selective interleukin-6 hypersecretion within the central nervous system as the likely pathogenic mechanism. This is also supported by the response to the anti-interleukin-6−receptor monoclonal antibody tocilizumab, but not to the recombinant interleukin-1−receptor antagonist anakinra. Exome sequencing failed to identify mutations in other genes known to be involved in autoinflammatory diseases. We propose that the disease described in this patient might be a prototype of a novel category of autoinflammatory diseases characterized by prominent neurological involvement.
PMCID: PMC3601972  PMID: 23432807
Anakinra; Aseptic meningitis; NLRP3 (CIAS1); Hearing loss; Interleukin-1; Interleukin-6; Leukoencephalopathy; MEFV; Tocilizumab
22.  Highly conserved elements discovered in vertebrates are present in non-syntenic loci of tunicates, act as enhancers and can be transcribed during development 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(6):3600-3618.
Co-option of cis-regulatory modules has been suggested as a mechanism for the evolution of expression sites during development. However, the extent and mechanisms involved in mobilization of cis-regulatory modules remains elusive. To trace the history of non-coding elements, which may represent candidate ancestral cis-regulatory modules affirmed during chordate evolution, we have searched for conserved elements in tunicate and vertebrate (Olfactores) genomes. We identified, for the first time, 183 non-coding sequences that are highly conserved between the two groups. Our results show that all but one element are conserved in non-syntenic regions between vertebrate and tunicate genomes, while being syntenic among vertebrates. Nevertheless, in all the groups, they are significantly associated with transcription factors showing specific functions fundamental to animal development, such as multicellular organism development and sequence-specific DNA binding. The majority of these regions map onto ultraconserved elements and we demonstrate that they can act as functional enhancers within the organism of origin, as well as in cross-transgenesis experiments, and that they are transcribed in extant species of Olfactores. We refer to the elements as ‘Olfactores conserved non-coding elements’.
PMCID: PMC3616699  PMID: 23393190
23.  Characterisation and Validation of Insertions and Deletions in 173 Patient Exomes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51292.
Recent advances in genomics technologies have spurred unprecedented efforts in genome and exome re-sequencing aiming to unravel the genetic component of rare and complex disorders. While in rare disorders this allowed the identification of novel causal genes, the missing heritability paradox in complex diseases remains so far elusive. Despite rapid advances of next-generation sequencing, both the technology and the analysis of the data it produces are in its infancy. At present there is abundant knowledge pertaining to the role of rare single nucleotide variants (SNVs) in rare disorders and of common SNVs in common disorders. Although the 1,000 genome project has clearly highlighted the prevalence of rare variants and more complex variants (e.g. insertions, deletions), their role in disease is as yet far from elucidated.
We set out to analyse the properties of sequence variants identified in a comprehensive collection of exome re-sequencing studies performed on samples from patients affected by a broad range of complex and rare diseases (N = 173). Given the known potential for Loss of Function (LoF) variants to be false positive, we performed an extensive validation of the common, rare and private LoF variants identified, which indicated that most of the private and rare variants identified were indeed true, while common novel variants had a significantly higher false positive rate. Our results indicated a strong enrichment of very low-frequency insertion/deletion variants, so far under-investigated, which might be difficult to capture with low coverage and imputation approaches and for which most of study designs would be under-powered. These insertions and deletions might play a significant role in disease genetics, contributing specifically to the underlining rare and private variation predicted to be discovered through next generation sequencing.
PMCID: PMC3522676  PMID: 23251486
24.  ParkDB: a Parkinson’s disease gene expression database 
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a common, adult-onset, neuro-degenerative disorder characterized by the degeneration of cardinal motor signs mainly due to the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. To date, researchers still have limited understanding of the key molecular events that provoke neurodegeneration in this disease. Here, we present ParkDB, the first queryable database dedicated to gene expression in PD. ParkDB contains a complete set of re-analyzed, curated and annotated microarray datasets. This resource enables scientists to identify and compare expression signatures involved in PD and dopaminergic neuron differentiation under different biological conditions and across species.
Database URL:
PMCID: PMC3098727  PMID: 21593080
25.  Integrated Genetic and Epigenetic Analysis Identifies Haplotype-Specific Methylation in the FTO Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity Susceptibility Locus 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e14040.
Recent multi-dimensional approaches to the study of complex disease have revealed powerful insights into how genetic and epigenetic factors may underlie their aetiopathogenesis. We examined genotype-epigenotype interactions in the context of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), focussing on known regions of genomic susceptibility. We assayed DNA methylation in 60 females, stratified according to disease susceptibility haplotype using previously identified association loci. CpG methylation was assessed using methylated DNA immunoprecipitation on a targeted array (MeDIP-chip) and absolute methylation values were estimated using a Bayesian algorithm (BATMAN). Absolute methylation levels were quantified across LD blocks, and we identified increased DNA methylation on the FTO obesity susceptibility haplotype, tagged by the rs8050136 risk allele A (p = 9.40×10−4, permutation p = 1.0×10−3). Further analysis across the 46 kb LD block using sliding windows localised the most significant difference to be within a 7.7 kb region (p = 1.13×10−7). Sequence level analysis, followed by pyrosequencing validation, revealed that the methylation difference was driven by the co-ordinated phase of CpG-creating SNPs across the risk haplotype. This 7.7 kb region of haplotype-specific methylation (HSM), encapsulates a Highly Conserved Non-Coding Element (HCNE) that has previously been validated as a long-range enhancer, supported by the histone H3K4me1 enhancer signature. This study demonstrates that integration of Genome-Wide Association (GWA) SNP and epigenomic DNA methylation data can identify potential novel genotype-epigenotype interactions within disease-associated loci, thus providing a novel route to aid unravelling common complex diseases.
PMCID: PMC2987816  PMID: 21124985

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