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1.  Human-specific epigenetic variation in the immunological Leukotriene B4 Receptor (LTB4R/BLT1) implicated in common inflammatory diseases 
Genome Medicine  2014;6(3):19.
Common human diseases are caused by the complex interplay of genetic susceptibility as well as environmental factors. Due to the environment’s influence on the epigenome, and therefore genome function, as well as conversely the genome’s facilitative effect on the epigenome, analysis of this level of regulation may increase our knowledge of disease pathogenesis.
In order to identify human-specific epigenetic influences, we have performed a novel genome-wide DNA methylation analysis comparing human, chimpanzee and rhesus macaque.
We have identified that the immunological Leukotriene B4 receptor (LTB4R, BLT1 receptor) is the most epigenetically divergent human gene in peripheral blood in comparison with other primates. This difference is due to the co-ordinated active state of human-specific hypomethylation in the promoter and human-specific increased gene body methylation. This gene is significant in innate immunity and the LTB4/LTB4R pathway is involved in the pathogenesis of the spectrum of human inflammatory diseases. This finding was confirmed by additional neutrophil-only DNA methylome and lymphoblastoid H3K4me3 chromatin comparative data. Additionally we show through functional analysis that this receptor has increased expression and a higher response to the LTB4 ligand in human versus rhesus macaque peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Genome-wide we also find human species-specific differentially methylated regions (human s-DMRs) are more prevalent in CpG island shores than within the islands themselves, and within the latter are associated with the CTCF motif.
This result further emphasises the exclusive nature of the human immunological system, its divergent adaptation even from very closely related primates, and the power of comparative epigenomics to identify and understand human uniqueness.
PMCID: PMC4062055  PMID: 24598577
2.  Using high-density DNA methylation arrays to profile copy number alterations 
Genome Biology  2014;15(2):R30.
The integration of genomic and epigenomic data is an increasingly popular approach for studying the complex mechanisms driving cancer development. We have developed a method for evaluating both methylation and copy number from high-density DNA methylation arrays. Comparing copy number data from Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChips and SNP arrays, we demonstrate that Infinium arrays detect copy number alterations with the sensitivity of SNP platforms. These results show that high-density methylation arrays provide a robust and economic platform for detecting copy number and methylation changes in a single experiment. Our method is available in the ChAMP Bioconductor package:
PMCID: PMC4054098  PMID: 24490765
3.  DNA methylation analysis of murine hematopoietic side population cells during aging 
Epigenetics  2013;8(10):1114-1122.
Stem cells have been found in most tissues/organs. These somatic stem cells produce replacements for lost and damaged cells, and it is not completely understood how this regenerative capacity becomes diminished during aging. To study the possible involvement of epigenetic changes in somatic stem cell aging, we used murine hematopoiesis as a model system. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) were enriched for via Hoechst exclusion activity (SP-HSC) from young, medium-aged and old mice and subjected to comprehensive, global methylome (MeDIP-seq) analysis. With age, we observed a global loss of DNA methylation of approximately 5%, but an increase in methylation at some CpG islands. Just over 100 significant (FDR < 0.2) aging-specific differentially methylated regions (aDMRs) were identified, which are surprisingly few considering the profound age-based changes that occur in HSC biology. Interestingly, the polycomb repressive complex -2 (PCRC2) target genes Kiss1r, Nav2 and Hsf4 were hypermethylated with age. The promoter for the Sdpr gene was determined to be progressively hypomethylated with age. This occurred concurrently with an increase in gene expression with age. To explore this relationship further, we cultured isolated SP-HSC in the presence of 5-aza-deoxycytdine and demonstrated a negative correlation between Sdpr promoter methylation and gene expression. We report that DNA methylation patterns are well preserved during hematopoietic stem cell aging, confirm that PCRC2 targets are increasingly methylated with age, and suggest that SDPR expression changes with age in HSCs may be regulated via age-based alterations in DNA methylation.
PMCID: PMC3891692  PMID: 23949429
hematopoietic stem cells; aging; epigenetics; methylomics; methylome; Nano-MeDIP-seq; DNA methylation; Sdpr polycomb repressive complex -2 (PCRC2); Nav2; Kiss1r; Hsf4
4.  Integrated virus-host methylome analysis in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma 
Epigenetics  2013;8(9):953-961.
One in six cancers worldwide is caused by infection and human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the main culprits. To better understand the dynamics of HPV integration and its effect on both the viral and host methylomes, we conducted whole-genome DNA methylation analysis using MeDIP-seq of HPV+ and HPV- head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). We determined the viral subtype to be HPV-16 in all cases and show that HPV-16 integrates into the host genome at multiple random sites and that this process predominantly involves the transcriptional repressor gene (E2) in the viral genome. Comparative analysis identified 453 (FDR ≤ 0.01) differentially methylated regions (DMRs) in the HPV+ host methylome. Bioinformatics characterization of these DMRs confirmed the previously reported cadherin genes to be affected but also revealed new targets for HPV-mediated methylation changes at regions not covered by array-based platforms, including the recently identified super-enhancers.
PMCID: PMC3883772  PMID: 23867721
human papillomavirus (HPV); head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC); DNA methylation; methylome; epigenome
5.  Identification and functional validation of HPV-mediated hypermethylation in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma 
Genome Medicine  2013;5(2):15.
Human papillomavirus-positive (HPV+) head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) represents a distinct clinical and epidemiological condition compared with HPV-negative (HPV-) HNSCC. To test the possible involvement of epigenetic modulation by HPV in HNSCC, we conducted a genome-wide DNA-methylation analysis.
Using laser-capture microdissection of 42 formalin-fixed paraffin wax-embedded (FFPE) HNSCCs, we generated DNA-methylation profiles of 18 HPV+ and 14 HPV- samples, using Infinium 450 k BeadArray technology. Methylation data were validated in two sets of independent HPV+/HPV- HNSCC samples (fresh-frozen samples and cell lines) using two independent methods (Infinium 450 k and whole-genome methylated DNA immunoprecipitation sequencing (MeDIP-seq)). For the functional analysis, an HPV- HNSCC cell line was transduced with lentiviral constructs containing the two HPV oncogenes (E6 and E7), and effects on methylation were assayed using the Infinium 450 k technology.
Results and discussion
Unsupervised clustering over the methylation variable positions (MVPs) with greatest variation showed that samples segregated in accordance with HPV status, but also that HPV+ tumors are heterogeneous. MVPs were significantly enriched at transcriptional start sites, leading to the identification of a candidate CpG island methylator phenotype in a sub-group of the HPV+ tumors. Supervised analysis identified a strong preponderance (87%) of MVPs towards hypermethylation in HPV+ HNSCC. Meta-analysis of our HNSCC and publicly available methylation data in cervical and lung cancers confirmed the observed DNA-methylation signature to be HPV-specific and tissue-independent. Grouping of MVPs into functionally more significant differentially methylated regions identified 43 hypermethylated promoter DMRs, including for three cadherins of the Polycomb group target genes. Integration with independent expression data showed strong negative correlation, especially for the cadherin gene-family members. Combinatorial ectopic expression of the two HPV oncogenes (E6 and E7) in an HPV- HNSCC cell line partially phenocopied the hypermethylation signature seen in HPV+ HNSCC tumors, and established E6 as the main viral effector gene.
Our data establish that archival FFPE tissue is very suitable for this type of methylome analysis, and suggest that HPV modulates the HNSCC epigenome through hypermethylation of Polycomb repressive complex 2 target genes such as cadherins, which are implicated in tumor progression and metastasis.
PMCID: PMC3706778  PMID: 23419152
6.  Human-specific CpG “beacons” identify loci associated with human-specific traits and disease 
Epigenetics  2012;7(10):1188-1199.
Regulatory change has long been hypothesized to drive the delineation of the human phenotype from other closely related primates. Here we provide evidence that CpG dinucleotides play a special role in this process. CpGs enable epigenome variability via DNA methylation, and this epigenetic mark functions as a regulatory mechanism. Therefore, species-specific CpGs may influence species-specific regulation. We report non-polymorphic species-specific CpG dinucleotides (termed “CpG beacons”) as a distinct genomic feature associated with CpG island (CGI) evolution, human traits and disease. Using an inter-primate comparison, we identified 21 extreme CpG beacon clusters (≥ 20/kb peaks, empirical p < 1.0 × 10−3) in humans, which include associations with four monogenic developmental and neurological disease related genes (Benjamini-Hochberg corrected p = 6.03 × 10−3). We also demonstrate that beacon-mediated CpG density gain in CGIs correlates with reduced methylation in these species in orthologous CGIs over time, via human, chimpanzee and macaque MeDIP-seq. Therefore mapping into both the genomic and epigenomic space the identified CpG beacon clusters define points of intersection where a substantial two-way interaction between genetic sequence and epigenetic state has occurred. Taken together, our data support a model for CpG beacons to contribute to CGI evolution from genesis to tissue-specific to constitutively active CGIs.
PMCID: PMC3469460  PMID: 22968434
epigenetics; epigenomics; CpG islands; gene regulation; evolution; human disease
7.  Resources for methylome analysis suitable for gene knockout studies of potential epigenome modifiers 
GigaScience  2012;1:3.
Methylated DNA immunoprecipitation (MeDIP) is a popular enrichment based method and can be combined with sequencing (termed MeDIP-seq) to interrogate the methylation status of cytosines across entire genomes. However, quality control and analysis of MeDIP-seq data have remained to be a challenge.
We report genome-wide DNA methylation profiles of wild type (wt) and mutant mouse cells, comprising 3 biological replicates of Thymine DNA glycosylase (Tdg) knockout (KO) embryonic stem cells (ESCs), in vitro differentiated neural precursor cells (NPCs) and embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs). The resulting 18 methylomes were analysed with MeDUSA (Methylated DNA Utility for Sequence Analysis), a novel MeDIP-seq computational analysis pipeline for the identification of differentially methylated regions (DMRs). The observed increase of hypermethylation in MEF promoter-associated CpG islands supports a previously proposed role for Tdg in the protection of regulatory regions from epigenetic silencing. Further analysis of genes and regions associated with the DMRs by gene ontology, pathway, and ChIP analyses revealed further insights into Tdg function, including an association of TDG with low-methylated distal regulatory regions.
We demonstrate that MeDUSA is able to detect both large-scale changes between cells from different stages of differentiation and also small but significant changes between the methylomes of cells that only differ in the KO of a single gene. These changes were validated utilising publicly available datasets and confirm TDG's function in the protection of regulatory regions from epigenetic silencing.
PMCID: PMC3617451  PMID: 23587164
Methylome; MeDIP-seq; Epigenetics; Epigenomics; DNA methylation; Computational pipeline; MeDUSA
8.  The locus for an inherited cataract in sheep maps to ovine chromosome 6 
Molecular Vision  2012;18:1384-1394.
Cataracts are an important cause of blindness in humans but there are few large animal models available. One of these animal models is Ovine Heritable Cataract, a bilateral cortical cataract which develops after birth. This cataract has been used as a model for human cataracts in drug trials, but the gene responsible for the cataract trait is unknown. A genetic test for cataract would improve the efficiency of the model by predicting which animals would develop cataracts. Identifying the genetic basis of the cataract would indicate its relevance to human cataract.
A genome scan was performed on 20 sheep chromosomes, representing 86% of the genome, to determine the position of the cataract locus. Additional microsatellite markers were tested on chromosome 6 using a larger pedigree. Fine mapping was performed using a breakpoint panel of 36 animals and novel microsatellite markers taken from the bovine genome assembly. All exons of the candidate gene nudix (nucleoside diphosphate linked moiety X)-type motif 9 (NUDT9) were sequenced in normal and affected sheep.
Significant linkage was found between cataract status and markers on chromosome 6. Linkage analysis on the larger pedigree showed the most likely position of the cataract locus was between 112.3 and 132.9 cM from the centromere. During fine mapping, NUDT9 was considered as a positional candidate for the cataract gene because it was located within the linked interval and is expressed in the lens. The gene was ruled out as the cataract gene after extensive genotype analysis, but a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) inside it provided a useful restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) marker for further fine mapping. Twelve new markers were found and used to map the cataract locus to between 131.1 and 131.8 cM from the centromere.
A region of ovine chromosome 6 strongly linked to cataract has been identified, and a genetic test for cataract based on a SNP within this region has been developed. The best candidate gene within this region is AF4/FMR2 family, member 1 (AFF1), the mouse equivalent of which is associated with an inherited cataract.
PMCID: PMC3370893  PMID: 22690116
9.  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
10.  Large-Scale Comparative Genomic Ranking of Taxonomically Restricted Genes (TRGs) in Bacterial and Archaeal Genomes 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(3):e324.
Lineage-specific, or taxonomically restricted genes (TRGs), especially those that are species and strain-specific, are of special interest because they are expected to play a role in defining exclusive ecological adaptations to particular niches. Despite this, they are relatively poorly studied and little understood, in large part because many are still orphans or only have homologues in very closely related isolates. This lack of homology confounds attempts to establish the likelihood that a hypothetical gene is expressed and, if so, to determine the putative function of the protein.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We have developed “QIPP” (“Quality Index for Predicted Proteins”), an index that scores the “quality” of a protein based on non-homology-based criteria. QIPP can be used to assign a value between zero and one to any protein based on comparing its features to other proteins in a given genome. We have used QIPP to rank the predicted proteins in the proteomes of Bacteria and Archaea. This ranking reveals that there is a large amount of variation in QIPP scores, and identifies many high-scoring orphans as potentially “authentic” (expressed) orphans. There are significant differences in the distributions of QIPP scores between orphan and non-orphan genes for many genomes and a trend for less well-conserved genes to have lower QIPP scores.
The implication of this work is that QIPP scores can be used to further annotate predicted proteins with information that is independent of homology. Such information can be used to prioritize candidates for further analysis. Data generated for this study can be found in the OrphanMine at
PMCID: PMC1824705  PMID: 17389915
11.  You are what you eat: describing the foraging ecology of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) using blubber fatty acids. 
Understanding the trophodynamics of marine ecosystems requires data on the temporal and spatial variation in predator diet but, particularly for wide-ranging species, these data are often unavailable. The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) consumes large quantities of fish and squid prey in the Southern Ocean relative to other marine mammals; however, how diet varies relative to seasonal and spatial foraging behaviour is unknown. We used fatty acid (FA) signature analysis of 63 blubber cores from adult female M. leonina over three seasons (winter 1999, summer 2000 and winter 2001) to determine diet structure. We detected significant differences between seasons and between the main foraging regions (Antarctic continental shelf versus pelagic). We used the FA profiles from 53 fish, squid and krill species to construct a discriminant function that would classify each seal, from its blubber sample as having a fish- or squid-FA profile. We determined that a higher proportion of M. leonina had fish-dominated diets during the winter and when foraging around the Antarctic continental shelf, and the majority had more squid-dominated diets during the summer when foraging pelagically. Thus, we were able to measure the coarse-scale diet structure of a major marine predator using FA profiles, and estimate its associated seasonal and temporal variation.
PMCID: PMC1691367  PMID: 12816642
12.  Meta-analysis of IDH-mutant cancers identifies EBF1 as an interaction partner for TET2 
Nature Communications  2013;4:2166.
Isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) genes 1 and 2 are frequently mutated in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), low-grade glioma, cholangiocarcinoma (CC) and chondrosarcoma (CS). For AML, low-grade glioma and CC, mutant IDH status is associated with a DNA hypermethylation phenotype, implicating altered epigenome dynamics in the aetiology of these cancers. Here we show that the IDH variants in CS are also associated with a hypermethylation phenotype and display increased production of the oncometabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate, supporting the role of mutant IDH-produced 2-hydroxyglutarate as an inhibitor of TET-mediated DNA demethylation. Meta-analysis of the acute myeloid leukaemia, low-grade glioma, cholangiocarcinoma and CS methylation data identifies cancer-specific effectors within the retinoic acid receptor activation pathway among the hypermethylated targets. By analysing sequence motifs surrounding hypermethylated sites across the four cancer types, and using chromatin immunoprecipitation and western blotting, we identify the transcription factor EBF1 (early B-cell factor 1) as an interaction partner for TET2, suggesting a sequence-specific mechanism for regulating DNA methylation.
Cancer-associated mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase are proposed to impair TET2-dependent DNA demethylation. By comparing the methylomes of IDH-mutant cancers, the authors identify the transcription factor EBF1 as a partner of TET2, suggesting a possible means for targeting TET2 to specific DNA sequences.
PMCID: PMC3759038  PMID: 23863747

Results 1-12 (12)