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1.  Causal and Synthetic Associations of Variants in the SERPINA Gene Cluster with Alpha1-antitrypsin Serum Levels 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(8):e1003585.
Several infrequent genetic polymorphisms in the SERPINA1 gene are known to substantially reduce concentration of alpha1-antitrypsin (AAT) in the blood. Since low AAT serum levels fail to protect pulmonary tissue from enzymatic degradation, these polymorphisms also increase the risk for early onset chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The role of more common SERPINA1 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in respiratory health remains poorly understood.
We present here an agnostic investigation of genetic determinants of circulating AAT levels in a general population sample by performing a genome-wide association study (GWAS) in 1392 individuals of the SAPALDIA cohort.
Five common SNPs, defined by showing minor allele frequencies (MAFs) >5%, reached genome-wide significance, all located in the SERPINA gene cluster at 14q32.13. The top-ranking genotyped SNP rs4905179 was associated with an estimated effect of β = −0.068 g/L per minor allele (P = 1.20*10−12). But denser SERPINA1 locus genotyping in 5569 participants with subsequent stepwise conditional analysis, as well as exon-sequencing in a subsample (N = 410), suggested that AAT serum level is causally determined at this locus by rare (MAF<1%) and low-frequent (MAF 1–5%) variants only, in particular by the well-documented protein inhibitor S and Z (PI S, PI Z) variants. Replication of the association of rs4905179 with AAT serum levels in the Copenhagen City Heart Study (N = 8273) was successful (P<0.0001), as was the replication of its synthetic nature (the effect disappeared after adjusting for PI S and Z, P = 0.57). Extending the analysis to lung function revealed a more complex situation. Only in individuals with severely compromised pulmonary health (N = 397), associations of common SNPs at this locus with lung function were driven by rarer PI S or Z variants. Overall, our meta-analysis of lung function in ever-smokers does not support a functional role of common SNPs in the SERPINA gene cluster in the general population.
Author Summary
Low levels of alpha1-antitrypsin (AAT) in the blood are a well-established risk factor for accelerated loss in lung function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. While a few infrequent genetic polymorphisms are known to influence the serum levels of this enzyme, the role of common genetic variants has not been examined so far. The present genome-wide scan for associated variants in approximately 1400 Swiss inhabitants revealed a chromosomal locus containing the functionally established variants of AAT deficiency and variants previously associated with lung function and emphysema. We used dense genotyping of this genetic region in more than 5500 individuals and subsequent conditional analyses to unravel which of these associated variants contribute independently to the phenotype's variability. All associations of common variants could be attributed to the rarer functionally established variants, a result which was then replicated in an independent population-based Danish cohort. Hence, this locus represents a textbook example of how a large part of a trait's heritability can be hidden in infrequent genetic polymorphisms. The attempt to transfer these results to lung function furthermore suggests that effects of common variants in this genetic region in ever-smokers may also be explained by rarer variants, but only in individuals with hampered pulmonary health.
PMCID: PMC3749935  PMID: 23990791
2.  Predicting Daily Physical Activity in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48081.
Objectively measuring daily physical activity (PA) using an accelerometer is a relatively expensive and time-consuming undertaking. In routine clinical practice it would be useful to estimate PA in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with more simple methods.
To evaluate whether PA can be estimated by simple tests commonly used in clinical practice in patients with COPD.
The average number of steps per day was measured for 7 days with a SenseWear Pro™ accelerometer and used as gold standard for PA. A physical activity level (PAL) of <1.4 was considered very inactive. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to examine the relationship between the 6-minute walking distance (6MWD), the number of stands in the Sit-to-Stand Test (STST), hand-grip strength and the total energy expenditure as assessed by the Zutphen Physical Activity Questionnaire (TEEZPAQ). ROC curve analysis was used to identify patients with an extremely inactive lifestyle (PAL<1.4).
In 70 patients with COPD (21 females) with a mean [SD] FEV1 of 43.0 [22.0] %predicted, PA was found to be significantly and independently associated with the 6MWD (r = 0.69, 95% CI 0.54 to 0.80, p<0.001), STST (r = 0.51, 95% CI 0.31 to 0.66, p = 0.001) and TEEZPAQ (r = 0.50, 95% CI 0.30 to 0.66, p<0.001) but not with hand-grip strength. However, ROC curve analysis demonstrated that these tests cannot be used to reliably identify patients with an extremely inactive lifestyle.
In patients with COPD simple tests such as the 6-Minute Walk Test, the Sit-to-Stand Test and the Zutphen Physical Activity Questionnaire cannot be used to reliably predict physical inactivity.
PMCID: PMC3487905  PMID: 23133612
3.  SERPINA1 PiZ and PiS Heterozygotes and Lung Function Decline in the SAPALDIA Cohort 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42728.
Severe alpha1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is a strong risk factor for COPD. But the impact of gene variants resulting in mild or intermediate AAT deficiency on the longitudinal course of respiratory health remains controversial. There is indication from experimental studies that pro-inflammatory agents like cigarette smoke can interact with these variants and thus increase the risk of adverse respiratory health effects. Therefore, we tested the effect of the presence of a protease inhibitor (Pi) S or Z allele (PiMS and PiMZ) on the change in lung function in different inflammation-exposed subgroups of a large, population-based cohort study.
Methodology and Principal Findings
The SAPALDIA population includes over 4600 subjects from whom SERPINA1 genotypes for S and Z alleles, spirometry and respiratory symptoms at baseline and after 11 years follow-up, as well as proxies for inflammatory conditions, such as detailed smoking history, obesity and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), were available. All analyses were performed by applying multivariate regression models. There was no overall unfavourable effect of PiMS or PiMZ genotype on lung function change. We found indication that PiZ heterozygosity interacted with inflammatory stimuli leading to an accelerated decline in measures in use as indices for assessing mild airway obstruction. Obese individuals with genotype PiMM had an average annual decline in the forced mid expiratory flow (ΔFEF25-75%) of 58.4 ml whereas in obese individuals with PiMZ it amounted to 92.2 ml (p = 0.03). Corresponding numbers for persistent smokers differed even more strongly (66.8 ml (PiMM) vs. 108.2 ml (PiMZ), p = 0.005). Equivalent, but less strong associations were observed for the change in the FEV1/FVC ratio.
We suggest that, in addition to the well established impact of the rare PiZZ genotype, one Z allele may be sufficient to accelerate lung function decline in population subgroups characterized by elevated levels of low grade inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3418297  PMID: 22912729
4.  Different Genes Interact with Particulate Matter and Tobacco Smoke Exposure in Affecting Lung Function Decline in the General Population 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40175.
Oxidative stress related genes modify the effects of ambient air pollution or tobacco smoking on lung function decline. The impact of interactions might be substantial, but previous studies mostly focused on main effects of single genes.
We studied the interaction of both exposures with a broad set of oxidative-stress related candidate genes and pathways on lung function decline and contrasted interactions between exposures.
For 12679 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), change in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), FEV1 over forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC), and mean forced expiratory flow between 25 and 75% of the FVC (FEF25-75) was regressed on interval exposure to particulate matter <10 µm in diameter (PM10) or packyears smoked (a), additive SNP effects (b), and interaction terms between (a) and (b) in 669 adults with GWAS data. Interaction p-values for 152 genes and 14 pathways were calculated by the adaptive rank truncation product (ARTP) method, and compared between exposures. Interaction effect sizes were contrasted for the strongest SNPs of nominally significant genes (pinteraction<0.05). Replication was attempted for SNPs with MAF>10% in 3320 SAPALDIA participants without GWAS.
On the SNP-level, rs2035268 in gene SNCA accelerated FEV1/FVC decline by 3.8% (pinteraction = 2.5×10−6), and rs12190800 in PARK2 attenuated FEV1 decline by 95.1 ml pinteraction = 9.7×10−8) over 11 years, while interacting with PM10. Genes and pathways nominally interacting with PM10 and packyears exposure differed substantially. Gene CRISP2 presented a significant interaction with PM10 (pinteraction = 3.0×10−4) on FEV1/FVC decline. Pathway interactions were weak. Replications for the strongest SNPs in PARK2 and CRISP2 were not successful.
Consistent with a stratified response to increasing oxidative stress, different genes and pathways potentially mediate PM10 and tobacco smoke effects on lung function decline. Ignoring environmental exposures would miss these patterns, but achieving sufficient sample size and comparability across study samples is challenging.
PMCID: PMC3391223  PMID: 22792237
5.  Decreased PM10 Exposure Attenuates Age-Related Lung Function Decline: Genetic Variants in p53, p21, and CCND1 Modify This Effect 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2009;117(9):1420-1427.
Decreasing exposure to airborne particulates was previously associated with reduced age-related decline in lung function. However, whether the benefit from improved air quality depends on genetic background is not known. Recent evidence points to the involvement of the genes p53 and p21 and of the cell cycle control gene cyclin D1 (CCND1) in the response of bronchial cells to air pollution.
We determined in 4,326 participants of the Swiss Cohort Study on Air Pollution and Lung and Heart Diseases in Adults (SAPALDIA) whether four single-nucleotide polymorphisms in three genes [CCND1 (rs9344 [P242P], rs667515), p53 (rs1042522 [R72P]), and p21 (rs1801270 [S31R])] modified the previously observed attenuation of the decline in the forced expiratory flow between 25% and 75% of the forced vital capacity (FEF25–75) associated with improved air quality.
Subjects of the prospective population-based SAPALDIA cohort were assessed in 1991 and 2002 by spirometry, questionnaires, and biological sample collection for genotyping. We assigned spatially resolved concentrations of particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter ≤ 10 μm (PM10) to each participant’s residential history 12 months before the baseline and follow-up assessments.
The effect of diminishing PM10 exposure on FEF25–75 decline appeared to be modified by p53 R72P, CCND1 P242P, and CCND1 rs667515. For example, a 10-μg/m3 decline in aver-age PM10 exposure over an 11-year period attenuated the average annual decline in FEF25–75 by 21.33 mL/year (95% confidence interval, 10.57–32.08) among participants homozygous for the CCND1 (P242P) GG genotype, by 13.72 mL/year (5.38–22.06) among GA genotypes, and by 6.00 mL/year (−4.54 to 16.54) among AA genotypes.
Our results suggest that cell cycle control genes may modify the degree to which improved air quality may benefit respiratory function in adults.
PMCID: PMC2737020  PMID: 19750108
air pollution; cell cycle; cohort study; genes; respiratory function tests
6.  Caveolin-1 Expression and Hemodynamics in COPD Patients 
Caveolin-1 is a regulator of both intracellular calcium homeostasis and endothelial nitric oxide synthase and may play a pathogenetic role in pulmonary hypertension. In the present study, we aimed to investigate the correlations between pulmonary hemodynamics and vessel morphology including the expression of Caveolin-1 in pulmonary arterioles from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who underwent lung-volume reduction surgery. Staining and subsequent analysis was performed on paraffin-embedded lung tissue from COPD patients (n = 12). Pulmonary arteries with an external diameter of 100-500µm were analysed. Immunhistochemistry with antibodies against caveolin-1 was performed and intensity was assessed. Morphometric data were obtained by using computer-assisted imaging software. The findings were quantified and correlated to hemodynamic data obtained by right-heart catheterization. In COPD patients with pulmonary hypertension (n = 5), the expression of caveolin-1 within the medial smooth muscle cell layer was found to be increased, whereas the intimal caveolin-1 was more prominently expressed in COPD patients with normal pulmonary pressures (n = 7). The ratio between these expression patterns was positively correlated to the mean pulmonary artery pressure. Similar findings were observed for the ratio between intimal and medial thickness as well as for the expression of smooth muscle actin (SMA).
Taken together, the expression of caveolin-1 within medial smooth muscle cells of pulmonary arteries in patients with COPD is associated with pulmonary hypertension. Our results thus emphasize a potential novel player in the pathogenesis of COPD-associated pulmonary hypertension.
PMCID: PMC2703474  PMID: 19572028
Caveolin-1; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); morphometry; pulmonary hypertension.
7.  Circulating alpha1-antitrypsin in the general population: Determinants and association with lung function 
Respiratory Research  2008;9(1):35.
Severe alpha1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency associated with low AAT blood concentrations is an established genetic COPD risk factor. Less is known about the respiratory health impact of variation in AAT serum concentrations in the general population. We cross-sectionally investigated correlates of circulating AAT concentrations and its association with FEV1.
In 5187 adults (2669 females) with high-sensitive c-reactive protein (CRP) levels ≤ 10 mg/l from the population-based Swiss SAPALDIA cohort, blood was collected at the time of follow-up examination for measuring serum AAT and CRP.
Female gender, hormone intake, systolic blood pressure, age in men and in postmenopausal women, as well as active and passive smoking were positively, whereas alcohol intake and BMI inversely correlated with serum AAT levels, independent of CRP adjustment. We observed an inverse association of AAT with FEV1 in the total study population (p < 0.001), that disappeared after adjustment for CRP (p = 0.28). In addition, the AAT and FEV1 association was modified by gender, menopausal status in women, and smoking.
The results of this population-based study reflect a complex interrelationship between tobacco exposure, gender related factors, circulating AAT, systemic inflammatory status and lung function.
PMCID: PMC2413219  PMID: 18439253
8.  Glutathione S-transferase genotypes modify lung function decline in the general population: SAPALDIA cohort study 
Respiratory Research  2007;8(1):2.
Understanding the environmental and genetic risk factors of accelerated lung function decline in the general population is a first step in a prevention strategy against the worldwide increasing respiratory pathology of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Deficiency in antioxidative and detoxifying Glutathione S-transferase (GST) gene has been associated with poorer lung function in children, smokers and patients with respiratory diseases. In the present study, we assessed whether low activity variants in GST genes are also associated with accelerated lung function decline in the general adult population.
We examined with multiple regression analysis the association of polymorphisms in GSTM1, GSTT1 and GSTP1 genes with annual decline in FEV1, FVC, and FEF25–75 during 11 years of follow-up in 4686 subjects of the prospective SAPALDIA cohort representative of the Swiss general population. Effect modification by smoking, gender, bronchial hyperresponisveness and age was studied.
The associations of GST genotypes with FEV1, FVC, and FEF25–75 were comparable in direction, but most consistent for FEV1. GSTT1 homozygous gene deletion alone or in combination with GSTM1 homozygous gene deletion was associated with excess decline in FEV1 in men, but not women, irrespective of smoking status. The additional mean annual decline in FEV1 in men with GSTT1 and concurrent GSTM1 gene deletion was -8.3 ml/yr (95% confidence interval: -12.6 to -3.9) relative to men without these gene deletions. The GSTT1 effect on the FEV1 decline comparable to the observed difference in FEV1 decline between never and persistent smoking men. Effect modification by gender was statistically significant.
Our results suggest that genetic GSTT1 deficiency is a prevalent and strong determinant of accelerated lung function decline in the male general population.
PMCID: PMC1781067  PMID: 17217536
9.  What do patients think after a lung transplantation about their self, lung and social network? A quantitative analysis of categorical interview data 
Objective: Psychosocial aspects have been investigated in transplant medicine mainly by the means of various structured questionnaires. To date only few interview data are available on patients thoughts about their self, the transplanted lung or the medication, and the relationship between these thoughts and compliance or gender.
Methods: Twenty patients were interviewed after transplantation about their perceptions on self, body, transplanted lung, medication and social network. Their compliance was rated by the attending physicians. The overall interrater-reliability for the category groups was Kappa=.8. The article presents quantitative results of the content analysis.
Results: Statements were made most frequently about the patients' social network and their self, and significantly less frequently about their body, lung and medication. "Closeness", "distance" and "depression" where main issues that these patients were dealing with. "Closeness" and "distance" played major roles in interpersonal relationships as well as in the relationship to the new lung. Depression mainly had to do with health burdens and the psychosocial consequences of the transplantation (e.g. financial worries). Women made significantly more statements about their social network than men; furthermore they formulate more accented emotional evaluations. Patients with low compliance were more frequently preoccupied with their self, their body as well as the experience of "dependence" and "achievement" than patients with high compliance; also low compliant patients made more critical statements.
Conclusions: For lung transplant recipients social relationships are the prime topic of their daily experience. With respect to compliance behaviour, special attention should be paid to the patients' self and body perception as well as to their experience of dependence. These results should be confirmed in studies with larger sample sizes.
PMCID: PMC2736508  PMID: 19742273
lung transplantation; self; body; compliance; gender; content analysis
10.  Personality, illness perceptions, and lung function (FEV1) in 50 patients after lung transplantation 
Objective: After lung transplantation little attention has been devoted to patient's personality and illness perceptions, although the importance of illness perceptions (e.g. to the psychosocial status of health) as well as the relationship between personality and illness perceptions is well-known from other areas of medicine.
Methods: Fifty patients more than one year after lung transplantation were surveyed by the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) as well as the "control" and "consequences" scales of the Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ). Medical data included the diagnoses of the underlying lung diseases and the pulmonary graft function as measured by the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1).
Results: In our patients, mean values of the personality factors "extraversion" (p=.003), "openness to experiences" (p<.001), "agreeableness" (p=.035), and "conscientiousness" (p<.001) were significantly higher compared to the normal population. "Openness to experiences" correlated positively and "neuroticism" negatively with the illness perception "control". There was no correlation between illness perceptions and lung function.
Conclusion: In lung transplant recipients, personality traits are more relevant to illness perceptions ("control") than current graft function.
PMCID: PMC2736488  PMID: 19742058
lung transplantation; personality; illness perception; control; consequences; lung function

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