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1.  Plasma Fibrinogen as a Biomarker for Mortality and Hospitalized Exacerbations in People with COPD 
In 2010 the COPD Foundation established the COPD Biomarkers Qualification Consortium (CBQC) as a partnership between the Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the pharmaceutical industry to pool publicly-funded and industry data to develop innovative tools to facilitate the development and approval of new therapies for COPD. We present data from the initial project seeking regulatory qualification of fibrinogen as a biomarker for the stratification of COPD patients into clinical trials.
This analysis pooled data from 4 publicly-funded studies and 1 industry study into a common database resulting in 6376 individuals with spirometric evidence of COPD. We used a threshold of 350 mg/dL to determine high vs. low fibrinogen, and determined the subsequent risk of hospitalizations from exacerbations and death using Cox proportional hazards models.
High fibrinogen levels at baseline were present in 2853 (44.7%) of individuals with COPD. High fibrinogen was associated with an increased risk of hospitalized COPD exacerbations within 12 months (hazard ratio [HR]: 1.64; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.39–1.93) among participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC), the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), and the Evaluation of COPD Longitudinally to Identify Predictive Surrogate Endpoints (ECLIPSE) study. High fibrinogen was associated with an increased risk of death within 36 months (HR: 1.94; 95% CI: 1.62–2.31) among all participants.
Fibrinogen levels ≥ 350 mg/dL identify COPD individuals at an increased risk of exacerbations and death and could be a useful biomarker for enriching clinical trials in the COPD population.
PMCID: PMC4326107
fibrinogen; COPD; biomarker
2.  Characterising the association of latency with α1-antitrypsin polymerisation using a novel monoclonal antibody 
α1-Antitrypsin is primarily synthesised in the liver, circulates to the lung and protects pulmonary tissues from proteolytic damage. The Z mutant (Glu342Lys) undergoes inactivating conformational change and polymerises. Polymers are retained within the hepatocyte endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in homozygous (PiZZ) individuals, predisposing the individuals to hepatic cirrhosis and emphysema. Latency is an analogous process of inactivating, intra-molecular conformational change and may co-occur with polymerisation. However, the relationship between latency and polymerisation remained unexplored in the absence of a suitable probe. We have developed a novel monoclonal antibody specific for latent α1-antitrypsin and used it in combination with a polymer-specific antibody, to assess the association of both conformers in vitro, in disease and during augmentation therapy. In vitro kinetics analysis showed polymerisation dominated the pathway but latency could be promoted by stabilising monomeric α1-antitrypsin. Polymers were extensively produced in hepatocytes and a cell line expressing Z α1-antitrypsin but the latent protein was not detected despite manipulation of the secretory pathway. However, α1-antitrypsin augmentation therapy contains latent α1-antitrypsin, as did the plasma of 63/274 PiZZ individuals treated with augmentation therapy but 0/264 who were not receiving this medication (p < 10−14). We conclude that latent α1-antitrypsin is a by-product of the polymerisation pathway, that the intracellular folding environment is resistant to formation of the latent conformer but that augmentation therapy introduces latent α1-antitrypsin into the circulation. A suite of monoclonal antibodies and methodologies developed in this study can characterise α1-antitrypsin folding and conformational transitions, and screen methods to improve augmentation therapy.
PMCID: PMC4305080  PMID: 25462157
α1-Antitrypsin; Latency; Polymerisation; Monoclonal antibodies; Augmentation therapy
3.  Interactive neonatal gastrointestinal magnetic resonance imaging using fruit juice as an oral contrast media 
BMC Medical Imaging  2014;14:33.
The objective was to evaluate the use of fruit juice with an interactive inversion recovery (IR) MR pulse sequence to visualise the gastrointestinal tract.
We investigated the relaxation properties of 12 different natural fruit juices in vitro, to identify which could be used as oral contrast. We then describe our initial experience using an interactive MR pulse sequence to allow optimal visualisation after administering pineapple juice orally, and suppressing pre-existing bowel fluid contents, with variable TI in three adult and one child volunteer.
Pineapple juice (PJ) had both the shortest T1 (243 ms) and shortest T2 (48 ms) of the fruit juices tested. Optimal signal differentiation between pre-existing bowel contents and oral PJ administration was obtained with TIs of between 900 and 1100 ms.
The use of an inversion recovery preparation allowed long T1 pre-existing bowel contents to be suppressed whilst the short T1 of fruit juice acts as a positive contrast medium. Pineapple juice could be used as oral contrast agent for neonatal gastrointestinal magnetic resonance imaging.
PMCID: PMC4186814  PMID: 25245815
Neonatal; MRI; Bowel; Fruit juice
4.  Genetic susceptibility for chronic bronchitis in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
Respiratory Research  2014;15(1):113.
Chronic bronchitis (CB) is one of the classic phenotypes of COPD. The aims of our study were to investigate genetic variants associated with COPD subjects with CB relative to smokers with normal spirometry, and to assess for genetic differences between subjects with CB and without CB within the COPD population.
We analyzed data from current and former smokers from three cohorts: the COPDGene Study; GenKOLS (Bergen, Norway); and the Evaluation of COPD Longitudinally to Identify Predictive Surrogate Endpoints (ECLIPSE). CB was defined as having a cough productive of phlegm on most days for at least 3 consecutive months per year for at least 2 consecutive years. CB COPD cases were defined as having both CB and at least moderate COPD based on spirometry. Our primary analysis used smokers with normal spirometry as controls; secondary analysis was performed using COPD subjects without CB as controls. Genotyping was performed on Illumina platforms; results were summarized using fixed-effect meta-analysis.
For CB COPD relative to smoking controls, we identified a new genome-wide significant locus on chromosome 11p15.5 (rs34391416, OR = 1.93, P = 4.99 × 10-8) as well as significant associations of known COPD SNPs within FAM13A. In addition, a GWAS of CB relative to those without CB within COPD subjects showed suggestive evidence for association on 1q23.3 (rs114931935, OR = 1.88, P = 4.99 × 10-7).
We found genome-wide significant associations with CB COPD on 4q22.1 (FAM13A) and 11p15.5 (EFCAB4A, CHID1 and AP2A2), and a locus associated with CB within COPD subjects on 1q23.3 (RPL31P11 and ATF6). This study provides further evidence that genetic variants may contribute to phenotypic heterogeneity of COPD.
Trial registration NCT00608764, NCT00292552
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12931-014-0113-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4190389  PMID: 25241909
Pulmonary disease; Chronic obstructive; Chronic bronchitis; Genome-wide association study
5.  The role of bronchial epithelial cells in the pathogenesis of COPD in Z-alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency 
Respiratory Research  2014;15(1):112.
Alpha-1 antitrypsin is the main inhibitor of neutrophil elastase in the lung. Although it is principally synthesized by hepatocytes, alpha-1 antitrypsin is also secreted by bronchial epithelial cells. Gene mutations can lead to alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, with the Z variant being the most clinically relevant due to its propensity to polymerize. The ability of bronchial epithelial cells to produce Z-variant protein and its polymers is unknown.
We investigated the expression, accumulation, and secretion of Z-alpha-1 antitrypsin and its polymers in cultures of transfected cells and in cells originating from alpha-1 antitrypsin-deficient patients.
Experiments using a conformation-specific antibody were carried out on M- and Z-variant–transfected 16HBE cells and on bronchial biopsies and ex vivo bronchial epithelial cells from Z and M homozygous patients. In addition, the effect of an inflammatory stimulus on Z-variant polymer formation, elicited by Oncostatin M, was investigated. Comparisons of groups were performed using t-test or ANOVA. Non-normally distributed data were assessed by Mann–Whitney U test or the Kruskal-Wallis test, where appropriate. A P value of < 0.05 was considered to be significant.
Alpha-1 antitrypsin polymers were found at a higher concentration in the culture medium of ex vivo bronchial epithelial cells from Z-variant homozygotes, compared with M-variant homozygotes (P < 0.01), and detected in the bronchial epithelial cells and submucosa of patient biopsies. Oncostatin M significantly increased the expression of alpha-1 antitrypsin mRNA and protein (P < 0.05), and the presence of Z-variant polymers in ex vivo cells (P < 0.01).
Polymers of Z-alpha-1 antitrypsin form in bronchial epithelial cells, suggesting that these cells may be involved in the pathogenesis of lung emphysema and in bronchial epithelial cell dysfunction.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12931-014-0112-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4177581  PMID: 25218041
Z-AAT polymers; Bronchial epithelial cells; Pathogenesis of COPD; Bronchial epithelial cell dysfunction
6.  DNAH5 is associated with total lung capacity in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
Respiratory Research  2014;15(1):97.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by expiratory flow limitation, causing air trapping and lung hyperinflation. Hyperinflation leads to reduced exercise tolerance and poor quality of life in COPD patients. Total lung capacity (TLC) is an indicator of hyperinflation particularly in subjects with moderate-to-severe airflow obstruction. The aim of our study was to identify genetic variants associated with TLC in COPD.
We performed genome-wide association studies (GWASs) in white subjects from three cohorts: the COPDGene Study; the Evaluation of COPD Longitudinally to Identify Predictive Surrogate Endpoints (ECLIPSE); and GenKOLS (Bergen, Norway). All subjects were current or ex-smokers with at least moderate airflow obstruction, defined by a ratio of forced expiratory volume in 1 second to forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC) <0.7 and FEV1 < 80% predicted on post-bronchodilator spirometry. TLC was calculated by using volumetric computed tomography scans at full inspiration (TLCCT). Genotyping in each cohort was completed, with statistical imputation of additional markers. To find genetic variants associated with TLCCT, linear regression models were used, with adjustment for age, sex, pack-years of smoking, height, and principal components for genetic ancestry. Results were summarized using fixed-effect meta-analysis.
Analysis of a total of 4,543 COPD subjects identified one genome-wide significant locus on chromosome 5p15.2 (rs114929486, β = 0.42L, P = 4.66 × 10−8).
In COPD, TLCCT was associated with a SNP in dynein, axonemal, heavy chain 5 (DNAH5), a gene in which genetic variants can cause primary ciliary dyskinesia. DNAH5 could have an effect on hyperinflation in COPD.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12931-014-0097-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4169636  PMID: 25134640
Pulmonary disease; Chronic obstructive; Hyperinflation; Genome-wide association analysis; Total lung capacity; DNAH5
7.  The TRiC/CCT Chaperone Is Implicated in Alzheimer's Disease Based on Patient GWAS and an RNAi Screen in Aβ-Expressing Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e102985.
The human Aβ peptide causes progressive paralysis when expressed in the muscles of the nematode worm, C. elegans. We have exploited this model of Aβ toxicity by carrying out an RNAi screen to identify genes whose reduced expression modifies the severity of this locomotor phenotype. Our initial finding was that none of the human orthologues of these worm genes is identical with the genome-wide significant GWAS genes reported to date (the “white zone”); moreover there was no identity between worm screen hits and the longer list of GWAS genes which included those with borderline levels of significance (the “grey zone”). This indicates that Aβ toxicity should not be considered as equivalent to sporadic AD. To increase the sensitivity of our analysis, we then considered the physical interactors (+1 interactome) of the products of the genes in both the worm and the white+grey zone lists. When we consider these worm and GWAS gene lists we find that 4 of the 60 worm genes have a +1 interactome overlap that is larger than expected by chance. Two of these genes form a chaperonin complex, the third is closely associated with this complex and the fourth gene codes for actin, the major substrate of the same chaperonin.
PMCID: PMC4117641  PMID: 25080104
8.  On the Follow-Up of Genome-Wide Association Studies: An Overall Test for the Most Promising S.N.P.’s 
Genetic epidemiology  2011;35(5):303-309.
Even in large-scale genome-wide association studies, only a fraction of the true associations are detected at the genome-wide significance level. When few or no associations reach the significance threshold, one strategy is to follow-up on the most promising candidates, i.e. the single nucleotide polymorphisms with the smallest association-test p-values, by genotyping them in additional studies. In this communication, we propose an overall test for genome-wide association studies that analyzes the SNP’s with the most promising p-values simultaneously and thereby allows an early assessment of whether the follow- up of the selected SNP’s is likely promising. We theoretically derive the properties of the proposed overall test under the null hypothesis and assess its power based on simulation studies. An application to a GWAS for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease suggests that there are true association signals among the top SNPs and that an additional follow-up study is promising.
PMCID: PMC4096304  PMID: 21374717
genome wide association studies; snps association tests; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; statistical genetics; multiple testing
9.  Gene expression analysis uncovers novel Hedgehog interacting protein (HHIP) effects in human bronchial epithelial cells 
Genomics  2013;101(5):263-272.
Hedgehog Interacting Protein (HHIP) was implicated in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by genome-wide association studies (GWAS). However, it remains unclear how HHIP contributes to COPD pathogenesis. To identify genes regulated by HHIP, we performed gene expression microarray analysis in a human bronchial epithelial cell line (Beas-2B) stably infected with HHIP shRNAs. HHIP silencing led to differential expression of 296 genes; enrichment for variants nominally associated with COPD was found. Eighteen of the differentially expressed genes were validated by real-time PCR in Beas-2B cells. Seven of 11 validated genes tested in human COPD and control lung tissues demonstrated significant gene expression differences. Functional annotation indicated enrichment for extracellular matrix and cell growth genes. Network modeling demonstrated that the extracellular matrix and cell proliferation genes influenced by HHIP tended to be interconnected. Thus, we identified potential HHIP targets in human bronchial epithelial cells that may contribute to COPD pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3659826  PMID: 23459001
Hedgehog interacting protein (HHIP); Gene expression profiling; COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease); extracellular matrix (ECM); network modeling
10.  Altered native stability is the dominant basis for susceptibility of α1-antitrypsin mutants to polymerization 
Biochemical Journal  2014;460(Pt 1):103-115.
Serpins are protease inhibitors whose most stable state is achieved upon transition of a central 5-stranded β-sheet to a 6-stranded form. Mutations, low pH, denaturants and elevated temperatures promote this transition, which can result in a growing polymer chain of inactive molecules. Different types of polymer are possible, but, experimentally only heat has been shown to generate polymers in vitro consistent with ex vivo pathological specimens. Many mutations that alter the rate of heat-induced polymerization have been described, but interpretation is problematic because discrimination is lacking between the effect of global changes in native stability and specific effects on structural mechanism. We show that the temperature midpoint (Tm) of thermal denaturation reflects the transition of α1-antitrypsin to the polymerization intermediate, and determine the relationship with fixed-temperature polymerization half-times (t0.5) in the presence of stabilizing additives [TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), sucrose and sodium sulfate], point mutations and disulfide bonds. Combined with a retrospective analysis of 31 mutants characterized in the literature, the results of the present study show that global changes to native state stability are the predominant basis for the effects of mutations and osmolytes on heat-induced polymerization, summarized by the equation: ln(t0.5,mutant/t0.5,wild-type)=0.34×ΔTm. It is deviations from this relationship that hold key information about the polymerization process.
Mutations in α1-antitrypsin increase or decrease its tendency to form pathogenic ordered polymer chains. The present study shows that these effects are primarily exerted through changes in native state stability, and seldom through direct effects on the polymerization mechanism.
PMCID: PMC4080824  PMID: 24552432
cirrhosis; denaturation; disulfide; polymerization; serpin; stability; bis-ANS, 4,4′-dianilino-1,1′-binaphthyl-5,5′-disulfonic acid; HRP, horseradish peroxide; Ni-NTA, Ni2+-nitrilotriacetic acid; RCL, reactive centre loop; TMAO, trimethylamine N-oxide
11.  Susceptibility to Chronic Mucus Hypersecretion, a Genome Wide Association Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e91621.
Chronic mucus hypersecretion (CMH) is associated with an increased frequency of respiratory infections, excess lung function decline, and increased hospitalisation and mortality rates in the general population. It is associated with smoking, but it is unknown why only a minority of smokers develops CMH. A plausible explanation for this phenomenon is a predisposing genetic constitution. Therefore, we performed a genome wide association (GWA) study of CMH in Caucasian populations.
GWA analysis was performed in the NELSON-study using the Illumina 610 array, followed by replication and meta-analysis in 11 additional cohorts. In total 2,704 subjects with, and 7,624 subjects without CMH were included, all current or former heavy smokers (≥20 pack-years). Additional studies were performed to test the functional relevance of the most significant single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP).
A strong association with CMH, consistent across all cohorts, was observed with rs6577641 (p = 4.25×10−6, OR = 1.17), located in intron 9 of the special AT-rich sequence-binding protein 1 locus (SATB1) on chromosome 3. The risk allele (G) was associated with higher mRNA expression of SATB1 (4.3×10−9) in lung tissue. Presence of CMH was associated with increased SATB1 mRNA expression in bronchial biopsies from COPD patients. SATB1 expression was induced during differentiation of primary human bronchial epithelial cells in culture.
Our findings, that SNP rs6577641 is associated with CMH in multiple cohorts and is a cis-eQTL for SATB1, together with our additional observation that SATB1 expression increases during epithelial differentiation provide suggestive evidence that SATB1 is a gene that affects CMH.
PMCID: PMC3979657  PMID: 24714607
12.  Dissecting direct and indirect genetic effects on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) susceptibility 
Human genetics  2013;132(4):431-441.
Cigarette smoking is the major environmental risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Genome-wide association studies have provided compelling associations for three loci with COPD. In this study, we aimed to estimate direct, i.e., independent from smoking, and indirect effects of those loci on COPD development using mediation analysis. We included a total of 3,424 COPD cases and 1,872 unaffected controls with data on two smoking-related phenotypes: lifetime average smoking intensity and cumulative exposure to tobacco smoke (pack years). Our analysis revealed that effects of two linked variants (rs1051730 and rs8034191) in the AGPHD1/CHRNA3 cluster on COPD development are significantly, yet not entirely, mediated by the smoking-related phenotypes. Approximately 30 % of the total effect of variants in the AGPHD1/CHRNA3 cluster on COPD development was mediated by pack years. Simultaneous analysis of modestly (r2 = 0.21) linked markers in CHRNA3 and IREB2 revealed that an even larger (~42 %) proportion of the total effect of the CHRNA3 locus on COPD was mediated by pack years after adjustment for an IREB2 single nucleotide polymorphism. This study confirms the existence of direct effects of the AGPHD1/CHRNA3, IREB2, FAM13A and HHIP loci on COPD development. While the association of the AGPHD1/CHRNA3 locus with COPD is significantly mediated by smoking-related phenotypes, IREB2 appears to affect COPD independently of smoking.
PMCID: PMC3600068  PMID: 23299987
13.  The central molecular clock is robust in the face of behavioural arrhythmia in a Drosophila model of Alzheimer’s disease 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2014;7(4):445-458.
Circadian behavioural deficits, including sleep irregularity and restlessness in the evening, are a distressing early feature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). We have investigated these phenomena by studying the circadian behaviour of transgenic Drosophila expressing the amyloid beta peptide (Aβ). We find that Aβ expression results in an age-related loss of circadian behavioural rhythms despite ongoing normal molecular oscillations in the central clock neurons. Even in the absence of any behavioural correlate, the synchronised activity of the central clock remains protective, prolonging lifespan, in Aβ flies just as it does in control flies. Confocal microscopy and bioluminescence measurements point to processes downstream of the molecular clock as the main site of Aβ toxicity. In addition, there seems to be significant non-cell-autonomous Aβ toxicity resulting in morphological and probably functional signalling deficits in central clock neurons.
PMCID: PMC3974455  PMID: 24574361
Alzheimer’s disease; Circadian dysfunction; Non-cell-autonomous Aβ toxicity; Drosophila model; Biological clock
14.  Myxomavirus-Derived Serpin Prolongs Survival and Reduces Inflammation and Hemorrhage in an Unrelated Lethal Mouse Viral Infection 
Lethal viral infections produce widespread inflammation with vascular leak, clotting, and bleeding (disseminated intravascular coagulation [DIC]), organ failure, and high mortality. Serine proteases in clot-forming (thrombotic) and clot-dissolving (thrombolytic) cascades are activated by an inflammatory cytokine storm and also can induce systemic inflammation with loss of normal serine protease inhibitor (serpin) regulation. Myxomavirus secretes a potent anti-inflammatory serpin, Serp-1, that inhibits clotting factor X (fX) and thrombolytic tissue- and urokinase-type plasminogen activators (tPA and uPA) with anti-inflammatory activity in multiple animal models. Purified serpin significantly improved survival in a murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68) infection in gamma interferon receptor (IFN-γR) knockout mice, a model for lethal inflammatory vasculitis. Treatment of MHV68-infected mice with neuroserpin, a mammalian serpin that inhibits only tPA and uPA, was ineffective. Serp-1 reduced virus load, lung hemorrhage, and aortic, lung, and colon inflammation in MHV68-infected mice and also reduced virus load. Neuroserpin suppressed a wide range of immune spleen cell responses after MHV68 infection, while Serp-1 selectively increased CD11c+ splenocytes (macrophage and dendritic cells) and reduced CD11b+ tissue macrophages. Serp-1 altered gene expression for coagulation and inflammatory responses, whereas neuroserpin did not. Serp-1 treatment was assessed in a second viral infection, mouse-adapted Zaire ebolavirus in wild-type BALB/c mice, with improved survival and reduced tissue necrosis. In summary, treatment with this unique myxomavirus-derived serpin suppresses systemic serine protease and innate immune responses caused by unrelated lethal viral infections (both RNA and DNA viruses), providing a potential new therapeutic approach for treatment of lethal viral sepsis.
PMCID: PMC3754305  PMID: 23774438
15.  Genome-wide study identifies two loci associated with lung function decline in mild to moderate COPD 
Human genetics  2012;132(1):79-90.
Accelerated lung function decline is a key COPD phenotype; however its genetic control remains largely unknown.
We performed a genome-wide association study using the Illumina Human660W-Quad v.1_A BeadChip. Generalized estimation equations were used to assess genetic contributions to lung function decline over a 5-year period in 4,048 European-American Lung Health Study participants with largely mild COPD. Genotype imputation was performed using reference HapMap II data. To validate regions meeting genome-wide significance, replication of top SNPs was attempted in independent cohorts. Three genes (TMEM26, ANK3 and FOXA1) within the regions of interest were selected for tissue expression studies using immunohistochemistry.
Measurements and Main Results
Two intergenic SNPs (rs10761570, rs7911302) on chromosome 10 and one SNP on chromosome 14 (rs177852) met genome-wide significance after Bonferroni. Further support for the chromosome 10 region was obtained by imputation, the most significantly associated imputed SNPs (rs10761571, rs7896712) being flanked by observed markers rs10761570 and rs7911302. Results were not replicated in four general population cohorts or a smaller cohort of subjects with moderate to severe COPD; however, we show novel expression of genes near regions of significantly associated SNPS, including TMEM26 and FOXA1 in airway epithelium and lung parenchyma, and ANK3 in alveolar macrophages. Levels of expression were associated with lung function and COPD status.
We identified two novel regions associated with lung function decline in mild COPD. Genes within these regions were expressed in relevant lung cells and their expression related to airflow limitation suggesting they may represent novel candidate genes for COPD susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC3536920  PMID: 22986903
COPD; lung function decline; GWAS; genome wide association; genes; polymorphisms
16.  Endoplasmic reticulum polymers impair luminal protein mobility and sensitise to cellular stress in α1-antitrypsin deficiency 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2013;57(5):10.1002/hep.26173.
Point mutants of α1-antitrypsin form ordered polymers that are retained as inclusions within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of hepatocytes in association with neonatal hepatitis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. These inclusions cause cell damage and predispose to ER stress in the absence of the classical unfolded protein response (UPR). The pathophysiology underlying this ER stress was explored by generating cell models that conditionally express wildtype α1-antitrypsin, two mutants that cause polymer-mediated inclusions and liver disease (E342K [the Z allele] and H334D) and a truncated mutant (Null Hong Kong, NHK) that induces classical ER stress and is removed by ER associated degradation. Expression of the polymeric mutants resulted in gross changes in the ER luminal environment that recapitulated the changes seen in liver sections from individuals with PI*ZZ α1-antitrypsin deficiency. In contrast expression of NHK α1-antitrypsin caused electron lucent dilatation and expansion of the ER throughout the cell. Photobleaching microscopy in live cells demonstrated a decrease in the mobility of soluble luminal proteins in cells that express E342K and H334D α1-antitrypsin when compared to those that express wildtype and NHK α1-antitrypsin (0.34±0.05, 0.22±0.03, 2.83±0.30 and 2.84±0.55 μm2/s respectively). There was no effect on protein mobility within ER membranes indicating that cisternal connectivity was not disrupted. Polymer expression alone was insufficient to induce the UPR but the resulting protein overload rendered cells hypersensitive to ER stress induced by either tunicamycin or glucose depletion.
Changes in protein diffusion provide an explanation for the cellular consequences of ER protein overload in mutants that cause inclusion body formation and α1-antitrypsin deficiency.
PMCID: PMC3871212  PMID: 23197448
cirrhosis; serpins; UPR; diffusion; FRAP-FLIP
17.  Genome-Wide Association Analysis of Blood Biomarkers in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
Rationale: A genome-wide association study (GWAS) for circulating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) biomarkers could identify genetic determinants of biomarker levels and COPD susceptibility.
Objectives: To identify genetic variants of circulating protein biomarkers and novel genetic determinants of COPD.
Methods: GWAS was performed for two pneumoproteins, Clara cell secretory protein (CC16) and surfactant protein D (SP-D), and five systemic inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, IL-6, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor-α) in 1,951 subjects with COPD. For genome-wide significant single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) (P < 1 × 10−8), association with COPD susceptibility was tested in 2,939 cases with COPD and 1,380 smoking control subjects. The association of candidate SNPs with mRNA expression in induced sputum was also elucidated.
Measurements and Main Results: Genome-wide significant susceptibility loci affecting biomarker levels were found only for the two pneumoproteins. Two discrete loci affecting CC16, one region near the CC16 coding gene (SCGB1A1) on chromosome 11 and another locus approximately 25 Mb away from SCGB1A1, were identified, whereas multiple SNPs on chromosomes 6 and 16, in addition to SNPs near SFTPD, had genome-wide significant associations with SP-D levels. Several SNPs affecting circulating CC16 levels were significantly associated with sputum mRNA expression of SCGB1A1 (P = 0.009–0.03). Several SNPs highly associated with CC16 or SP-D levels were nominally associated with COPD in a collaborative GWAS (P = 0.001–0.049), although these COPD associations were not replicated in two additional cohorts.
Conclusions: Distant genetic loci and biomarker-coding genes affect circulating levels of COPD-related pneumoproteins. A subset of these protein quantitative trait loci may influence their gene expression in the lung and/or COPD susceptibility.
Clinical trial registered with (NCT 00292552).
PMCID: PMC3622441  PMID: 23144326
biomarker; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; genome-wide association study
18.  Systemic Steroid Exposure Is Associated with Differential Methylation in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
Rationale: Systemic glucocorticoids are used therapeutically to treat a variety of medical conditions. Epigenetic processes such as DNA methylation may reflect exposure to glucocorticoids and may be involved in mediating the responses and side effects associated with these medications.
Objectives: To test the hypothesis that differences in DNA methylation are associated with current systemic steroid use.
Methods: We obtained DNA methylation data at 27,578 CpG sites in 14,475 genes throughout the genome in two large, independent cohorts: the International COPD Genetics Network (ndiscovery = 1,085) and the Boston Early Onset COPD study (nreplication = 369). Sites were tested for association with current systemic steroid use using generalized linear mixed models.
Measurements and Main Results: A total of 511 sites demonstrated significant differential methylation by systemic corticosteroid use in all three of our primary models. Pyrosequencing validation confirmed robust differential methylation at CpG sites annotated to genes such as SLC22A18, LRP3, HIPK3, SCNN1A, FXYD1, IRF7, AZU1, SIT1, GPR97, ABHD16B, and RABGEF1. Functional annotation clustering demonstrated significant enrichment in intrinsic membrane components, hemostasis and coagulation, cellular ion homeostasis, leukocyte and lymphocyte activation and chemotaxis, protein transport, and responses to nutrients.
Conclusions: Our analyses suggest that systemic steroid use is associated with site-specific differential methylation throughout the genome. Differentially methylated CpG sites were found in biologically plausible and previously unsuspected pathways; these genes and pathways may be relevant in the development of novel targeted therapies.
PMCID: PMC3622442  PMID: 23065012
DNA methylation; glucocorticoids; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
19.  Suppression of Aβ toxicity by puromycin-sensitive aminopeptidase is independent of its proteolytic activity☆ 
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta  2013;1832(12):2115-2126.
The accumulation of β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide in the brain is one of the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease and is thought to be of primary aetiological significance. In an unbiased genetic screen, we identified puromycin-sensitive aminopeptidase (PSA) as a potent suppressor of Aβ toxicity in a Drosophila model system. We established that coexpression of Drosophila PSA (dPSA) in the flies' brains improved their lifespan, protected against locomotor deficits, and reduced brain Aβ levels by clearing the Aβ plaque-like deposits. However, confocal microscopy and subcellular fractionation of amyloid-expressing 7PA2 cells demonstrated that PSA localizes to the cytoplasm. Therefore, PSA and Aβ are unlikely to be in the same cellular compartment; moreover, when we artificially placed them in the same compartment in flies, we could not detect a direct epistatic interaction. The consequent hypothesis that PSA's suppression of Aβ toxicity is indirect was supported by the finding that Aβ is not a proteolytic substrate for PSA in vitro. Furthermore, we showed that the enzymatic activity of PSA is not required for rescuing Aβ toxicity in neuronal SH-SY5Y cells. We investigated whether the stimulation of autophagy by PSA was responsible for these protective effects. However PSA's promotion of autophagosome fusion with lysosomes required proteolytic activity and so its effect on autophagy is not identical to its protection against Aβ toxicity.
•PSA is a potent suppressor of Aβ toxicity and reduces brain Aβ levels in flies.•PSA is cytoplasmic but there is no direct epistatic interaction with Aβ in vivo.•Aβ is not a proteolytic substrate for PSA in vitro.•The enzymatic activity of PSA is not required for rescuing Aβ toxicity in cells.•PSA stimulates autophagy but this is unlikely to be the mechanism that suppresses Aβ toxicity.
PMCID: PMC3898073  PMID: 23911349
Puromycin-sensitive aminopeptidase; Amyloid; Alzheimer; Autophagy; Proteolysis
20.  Nitric oxide synthase polymorphisms, gene expression and lung function in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
Due to the pleiotropic effects of nitric oxide (NO) within the lungs, it is likely that NO is a significant factor in the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The aim of this study was to test for association between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in three NO synthase (NOS) genes and lung function, as well as to examine gene expression and protein levels in relation to the genetic variation.
One SNP in each NOS gene (neuronal NOS (NOS1), inducible NOS (NOS2), and endothelial NOS (NOS3)) was genotyped in the Lung Health Study (LHS) and correlated with lung function. One SNP (rs1800779) was also analyzed for association with COPD and lung function in four COPD case–control populations. Lung tissue expression of NOS3 mRNA and protein was tested in individuals of known genotype for rs1800779. Immunohistochemistry of lung tissue was used to localize NOS3 expression.
For the NOS3 rs1800779 SNP, the baseline forced expiratory volume in one second in the LHS was significantly higher in the combined AG + GG genotypic groups compared with the AA genotypic group. Gene expression and protein levels in lung tissue were significantly lower in subjects with the AG + GG genotypes than in AA subjects. NOS3 protein was expressed in the airway epithelium and subjects with the AA genotype demonstrated higher NOS3 expression compared with AG and GG individuals. However, we were not able to replicate the associations with COPD or lung function in the other COPD study groups.
Variants in the NOS genes were not associated with lung function or COPD status. However, the G allele of rs1800779 resulted in a decrease of NOS3 gene expression and protein levels and this has implications for the numerous disease states that have been associated with this polymorphism.
PMCID: PMC3827989  PMID: 24192154
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Nitric oxide synthase; Polymorphism; Gene expression
21.  Increased ERK signalling promotes inflammatory signalling in primary airway epithelial cells expressing Z α1-antitrypsin 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;23(4):929-941.
Overexpression of Z α1-antitrypsin is known to induce polymer formation, prime the cells for endoplasmic reticulum stress and initiate nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) signalling. However, whether endogenous expression in primary bronchial epithelial cells has similar consequences remains unclear. Moreover, the mechanism of NF-κB activation has not yet been elucidated. Here, we report excessive NF-κB signalling in resting primary bronchial epithelial cells from ZZ patients compared with wild-type (MM) controls, and this appears to be mediated by mitogen-activated protein/extracellular signal-regulated kinase, EGF receptor and ADAM17 activity. Moreover, we show that rather than being a response to protein polymers, NF-κB signalling in airway-derived cells represents a loss of anti-inflammatory signalling by M α1-antitrypsin. Treatment of ZZ primary bronchial epithelial cells with purified plasma M α1-antitrypsin attenuates this inflammatory response, opening up new therapeutic options to modulate airway inflammation in the lung.
PMCID: PMC4007119  PMID: 24097797
23.  Cigarette smoking behaviors and time since quitting are associated with differential DNA methylation across the human genome 
Human Molecular Genetics  2012;21(13):3073-3082.
The impact of cigarette smoking can persist for extended periods following smoking cessation and may involve epigenetic reprogramming. Changes in DNA methylation associated with smoking may help to identify molecular pathways that contribute to the latency between exposure and disease onset. Cross-sectional cohort data from subjects in the International COPD Genetics Network (n = 1085) and the Boston Early-Onset COPD study (n = 369) were analyzed as the discovery and replication cohorts, respectively. Genome-wide methylation data on 27 578 CpG sites in 14 475 genes were obtained on DNA from peripheral blood leukocytes using the Illumina HumanMethylation27K Beadchip in both cohorts. We identified 15 sites significantly associated with current smoking, 2 sites associated with cumulative smoke exposure, and, within the subset of former smokers, 3 sites associated with time since quitting cigarettes. Two loci, factor II receptor-like 3 (F2RL3) and G-protein-coupled receptor 15 (GPR15), were significantly associated in all three analyses and were validated by pyrosequencing. These findings (i) identify a novel locus (GPR15) associated with cigarette smoking and (ii) suggest the existence of dynamic, site-specific methylation changes in response to smoking which may contribute to the extended risks associated with cigarette smoking that persist after cessation.
PMCID: PMC3373248  PMID: 22492999
24.  Sterol metabolism regulates neuroserpin polymer degradation in the absence of the unfolded protein response in the dementia FENIB 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;22(22):4616-4626.
Mutants of neuroserpin are retained as polymers within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of neurones to cause the autosomal dominant dementia familial encephalopathy with neuroserpin inclusion bodies or FENIB. The cellular consequences are unusual in that the ordered polymers activate the ER overload response (EOR) in the absence of the canonical unfolded protein response. We use both cell lines and Drosophila models to show that the G392E mutant of neuroserpin that forms polymers is degraded by UBE2j1 E2 ligase and Hrd1 E3 ligase while truncated neuroserpin, a protein that lacks 132 amino acids, is degraded by UBE2g2 (E2) and gp78 (E3) ligases. The degradation of G392E neuroserpin results from SREBP-dependent activation of the cholesterol biosynthetic pathway in cells that express polymers of neuroserpin (G392E). Inhibition of HMGCoA reductase, the limiting enzyme of the cholesterol biosynthetic pathway, reduced the ubiquitination of G392E neuroserpin in our cell lines and increased the retention of neuroserpin polymers in both HeLa cells and primary neurones. Our data reveal a reciprocal relationship between cholesterol biosynthesis and the clearance of mutant neuroserpin. This represents the first description of a link between sterol metabolism and modulation of the proteotoxicity mediated by the EOR.
PMCID: PMC3889810  PMID: 23814041
25.  Reactive centre loop mutants of α-1-antitrypsin reveal position-specific effects on intermediate formation along the polymerization pathway 
Bioscience Reports  2013;33(3):e00046.
The common severe Z mutation (E342K) of α1-antitrypsin forms intracellular polymers that are associated with liver cirrhosis. The native fold of this protein is well-established and models have been proposed from crystallographic and biophysical data for the stable inter-molecular configuration that terminates the polymerization pathway. Despite these molecular ‘snapshots’, the details of the transition between monomer and polymer remain only partially understood. We surveyed the RCL (reactive centre loop) of α1-antitrypsin to identify sites important for progression, through intermediate states, to polymer. Mutations at P14P12 and P4, but not P10P8 or P2P1′, resulted in a decrease in detectable polymer in a cell model that recapitulates the intracellular polymerization of the Z variant, consistent with polymerization from a near-native conformation. We have developed a FRET (Förster resonance energy transfer)-based assay to monitor polymerization in small sample volumes. An in vitro assessment revealed the position-specific effects on the unimolecular and multimolecular phases of polymerization: the P14P12 region self-inserts early during activation, while the interaction between P6P4 and β-sheet A presents a kinetic barrier late in the polymerization pathway. Correspondingly, mutations at P6P4, but not P14P12, yield an increase in the overall apparent activation energy of association from ~360 to 550 kJ mol−1.
PMCID: PMC3691886  PMID: 23659468
cirrhosis; emphysema; FRET; intermediate; polymerization; serpin; ANS, 8-anilinonaphthalene-1-sulfonic acid; bis-ANS, 4,4′-dianilino-1,1′-binaphthyl-5,5′-disulfonic acid; FRET, Förster resonance energy transfer; NTA, nitrilotriacetic acid; RCL, reactive centre loop; SI, stoichiometry of inhibition; Tm,midpoint of thermal denaturation

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