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1.  Cellular re- and de-programming by microenvironmental memory: why short TGF-β1 pulses can have long effects 
Background
Fibrosis poses a substantial setback in regenerative medicine. Histopathologically, fibrosis is an excessive accumulation of collagen affected by myofibroblasts and this can occur in any tissue that is exposed to chronic injury or insult. Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1, a crucial mediator of fibrosis, drives differentiation of fibroblasts into myofibroblasts. These cells exhibit α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and synthesize high amounts of collagen I, the major extracellular matrix (ECM) component of fibrosis. While hormones stimulate cells in a pulsatile manner, little is known about cellular response kinetics upon growth factor impact. We therefore studied the effects of short TGF-β1 pulses in terms of the induction and maintenance of the myofibroblast phenotype.
Results
Twenty-four hours after a single 30 min TGF-β1 pulse, transcription of fibrogenic genes was upregulated, but subsided 7 days later. In parallel, collagen I secretion rate and α-SMA presence were elevated for 7 days. A second pulse 24 h later extended the duration of effects to 14 days. We could not establish epigenetic changes on fibrogenic target genes to explain the long-lasting effects. However, ECM deposited under singly pulsed TGF-β1 was able to induce myofibroblast features in previously untreated fibroblasts. Dependent on the age of the ECM (1 day versus 7 days’ formation time), this property was diminished. Vice versa, myofibroblasts were cultured on fibroblast ECM and cells observed to express reduced (in comparison with myofibroblasts) levels of collagen I.
Conclusions
We demonstrated that short TGF-β1 pulses can exert long-lasting effects on fibroblasts by changing their microenvironment, thus leaving an imprint and creating a reciprocal feed-back loop. Therefore, the ECM might act as mid-term memory for pathobiochemical events. We would expect this microenvironmental memory to be dependent on matrix turnover and, as such, to be erasable. Our findings contribute to the current understanding of fibroblast induction and maintenance, and have bearing on the development of antifibrotic drugs.
doi:10.1186/1755-1536-6-12
PMCID: PMC3702516  PMID: 23782569
Fibrosis; Transforming growth factor-beta 1; Extracellular matrix; Memory; Pulses; Phenotype; Kinetics; Cytokine
2.  Evaluation of methylation status of the eNOS promoter at birth in relation to childhood bone mineral content 
Calcified tissue international  2011;90(2):120-127.
Aim
Our previous work has shown associations between childhood adiposity and perinatal methylation status of several genes in umbilical cord tissue, including endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). There is increasing evidence that eNOS is important in bone metabolism; we therefore related the methylation status of the eNOS gene promoter in stored umbilical cord to childhood bone size and density in a group of 9-year old children.
Methods
We used Sequenom MassARRAY to assess the methylation status of 2 CpGs in the eNOS promoter, identified from our previous study, in stored umbilical cords of 66 children who formed part of a Southampton birth cohort and who had measurements of bone size and density at age 9 years (Lunar DPXL DXA instrument).
Results
Percentage methylation varied greatly between subjects. For one of the two CpGs, eNOS chr7:150315553+, after taking account of age and sex there was a strong positive association between methylation status and the child’s whole body bone area (r=0.28,p=0.02), bone mineral content (r=0.34,p=0.005) and areal bone mineral density (r=0.34,p=0.005) at age 9 years. These associations were independent of previously documented maternal determinants of offspring bone mass.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest an association between methylation status at birth of a specific CpG within the eNOS promoter and bone mineral content in childhood. This supports a role for eNOS in bone growth and metabolism and implies that its contribution may at least in part occur during early skeletal development.
doi:10.1007/s00223-011-9554-5
PMCID: PMC3629299  PMID: 22159788
Epigenetic; methylation; umbilical cord; eNOS; DXA
3.  Transcriptome Changes Affecting Hedgehog and Cytokine Signalling in the Umbilical Cord: Implications for Disease Risk 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e39744.
Background
Babies born at lower gestational ages or smaller birthweights have a greater risk of poorer health in later life. Both the causes of these sub-optimal birth outcomes and the mechanism by which the effects are transmitted over decades are the subject of extensive study. We investigated whether a transcriptomic signature of either birthweight or gestational age could be detected in umbilical cord RNA.
Methods
The gene expression patterns of 32 umbilical cords from Singaporean babies of Chinese ethnicity across a range of birthweights (1698–4151 g) and gestational ages (35–41 weeks) were determined. We confirmed the differential expression pattern by gestational age for 12 genes in a series of 127 umbilical cords of Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnicity.
Results
We found that the transcriptome is substantially influenced by gestational age; but less so by birthweight. We show that some of the expression changes dependent on gestational age are enriched in signal transduction pathways, such as Hedgehog and in genes with roles in cytokine signalling and angiogenesis. We show that some of the gene expression changes we report are reflected in the epigenome.
Conclusions
We studied the umbilical cord which is peripheral to disease susceptible tissues. The results suggest that soma-wide transcriptome changes, preserved at the epigenetic level, may be a mechanism whereby birth outcomes are linked to the risk of adult metabolic and arthritic disease and suggest that greater attention be given to the association between premature birth and later disease risk.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039744
PMCID: PMC3393728  PMID: 22808055
4.  Epigenetic Gene Promoter Methylation at Birth Is Associated With Child’s Later Adiposity 
Diabetes  2011;60(5):1528-1534.
OBJECTIVE
Fixed genomic variation explains only a small proportion of the risk of adiposity. In animal models, maternal diet alters offspring body composition, accompanied by epigenetic changes in metabolic control genes. Little is known about whether such processes operate in humans.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
Using Sequenom MassARRAY we measured the methylation status of 68 CpGs 5′ from five candidate genes in umbilical cord tissue DNA from healthy neonates. Methylation varied greatly at particular CpGs: for 31 CpGs with median methylation ≥5% and a 5–95% range ≥10%, we related methylation status to maternal pregnancy diet and to child’s adiposity at age 9 years. Replication was sought in a second independent cohort.
RESULTS
In cohort 1, retinoid X receptor-α (RXRA) chr9:136355885+ and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) chr7:150315553+ methylation had independent associations with sex-adjusted childhood fat mass (exponentiated regression coefficient [β] 17% per SD change in methylation [95% CI 4–31], P = 0.009, n = 64, and β = 20% [9–32], P < 0.001, n = 66, respectively) and %fat mass (β = 10% [1–19], P = 0.023, n = 64 and β =12% [4–20], P = 0.002, n = 66, respectively). Regression analyses including sex and neonatal epigenetic marks explained >25% of the variance in childhood adiposity. Higher methylation of RXRA chr9:136355885+, but not of eNOS chr7:150315553+, was associated with lower maternal carbohydrate intake in early pregnancy, previously linked with higher neonatal adiposity in this population. In cohort 2, cord eNOS chr7:150315553+ methylation showed no association with adiposity, but RXRA chr9:136355885+ methylation showed similar associations with fat mass and %fat mass (β = 6% [2–10] and β = 4% [1–7], respectively, both P = 0.002, n = 239).
CONCLUSIONS
Our findings suggest a substantial component of metabolic disease risk has a prenatal developmental basis. Perinatal epigenetic analysis may have utility in identifying individual vulnerability to later obesity and metabolic disease.
doi:10.2337/db10-0979
PMCID: PMC3115550  PMID: 21471513
5.  Epigenetic gene promoter methylation at birth is associated with child’s later adiposity 
Diabetes  2011;60(5):1528-1534.
Objective
Fixed genomic variation explains only a small proportion of the risk of adiposity. In animal models, maternal diet alters offspring body composition, accompanied by epigenetic changes in metabolic control genes. Little is known about whether such processes operate in humans.
Research Design and Methods
Using Sequenom MassARRAY we measured the methylation status of 68 CpGs 5′ from five candidate genes in umbilical cord tissue DNA from healthy neonates. Methylation varied greatly at particular CpGs: for 31 CpGs with median methylation ≥5% and a 5-95% range ≥10% we related methylation status to maternal pregnancy diet and to child’s adiposity at age 9 years. Replication was sought in a second independent cohort.
Results
In cohort 1, RXRA chr9:136355885+ and eNOS chr7:150315553+ methylation had independent associations with sex-adjusted childhood fat mass (exponentiated regression coefficient (β) 17% per standard deviation change in methylation (95% confidence interval (CI) 4 to 31%), P=0.009, n=64 and β=20% (9 to 32%), P<0.001, n=66, respectively) and %fat mass (β=10% (1 to 19%), P=0.023, n=64 and β=12% (4 to 20%), P=0.002, n=66, respectively). Regression analyses including sex and neonatal epigenetic marks explained >25% of the variance in childhood adiposity. Higher methylation of RXRA chr9:136355885+, but not of eNOS chr7:150315553+, was associated with lower maternal carbohydrate intake in early pregnancy, previously linked with higher neonatal adiposity in this population. In cohort 2, cord eNOS chr7:150315553+ methylation showed no association with adiposity, but RXRA chr9:136355885+ methylation showed similar associations with fat mass and %fat mass (β=6% (2 to 10%) and β=4% (1 to 7%), respectively, both P=0.002, n=239).
Conclusions
Our findings suggest a substantial component of metabolic disease risk has a prenatal developmental basis. Perinatal epigenetic analysis may have utility in identifying individual vulnerability to later obesity and metabolic disease.
doi:10.2337/db10-0979
PMCID: PMC3115550  PMID: 21471513

Results 1-5 (5)