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1.  Association between C677T Polymorphism of Methylene Tetrahydrofolate Reductase and Congenital Heart Disease: Meta-Analysis of 7,697 Cases and 13,125 Controls 
Circulation. Cardiovascular genetics  2013;6(4):10.1161/CIRCGENETICS.113.000191.
Association between the C677T polymorphism of the methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene and congenital heart disease (CHD) is contentious.
Methods and Results
We compared genotypes between CHD cases and controls, and between mothers of CHD cases and controls. We placed our results in context by conducting metaanalyses of previously published studies. Among 5,814 cases with primary genotype data and 10,056 controls, there was no evidence of association between MTHFR C677T genotype and CHD risk (OR 0.96 [95% CI 0.87-1.07]). A random-effects meta-analysis of all studies (involving 7,697 cases and 13,125 controls) suggested the presence of association (OR 1.25 [95% CI 1.03-1.51]; p=0.022), but with substantial heterogeneity among contributing studies (I2=64.4%), and evidence of publication bias. Meta-analysis of large studies only (defined by a variance of the log OR less than 0.05), which together contributed 83% of all cases, yielded no evidence of association (OR 0.97 [95% CI 0.91-1.03]), without significant heterogeneity (I2=0). Moreover, meta-analysis of 1,781 mothers of CHD cases (829 of whom were genotyped in this study) and 19,861 controls revealed no evidence of association between maternal C677T genotype and risk of CHD in offspring (OR 1.13 [95% CI 0.87-1.47]). There was no significant association between MTHFR genotype and CHD risk in large studies from regions with different levels of dietary folate.
The MTHFR C677T polymorphism, which directly influences plasma folate levels, is not associated with CHD risk. Publication biases appear to substantially contaminate the literature with regard to this genetic association.
PMCID: PMC3855044  PMID: 23876493
congenital heart disease; MTHFR; genetic association; folate; Mendelian randomization
2.  BRCA1 Circos: a visualisation resource for functional analysis of missense variants 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2015;52(4):224-230.
Inactivating germline mutations in the tumour suppressor gene BRCA1 are associated with a significantly increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. A large number (>1500) of unique BRCA1 variants have been identified in the population and can be classified as pathogenic, non-pathogenic or as variants of unknown significance (VUS). Many VUS are rare missense variants leading to single amino acid changes. Their impact on protein function cannot be directly inferred from sequence information, precluding assessment of their pathogenicity. Thus, functional assays are critical to assess the impact of these VUS on protein activity. BRCA1 is a multifunctional protein and different assays have been used to assess the impact of variants on different biochemical activities and biological processes.
Methods and results
To facilitate VUS analysis, we have developed a visualisation resource that compiles and displays functional data on all documented BRCA1 missense variants. BRCA1 Circos is a web-based visualisation tool based on the freely available Circos software package. The BRCA1 Circos web tool ( aggregates data from all published BRCA1 missense variants for functional studies, harmonises their results and presents various functionalities to search and interpret individual-level functional information for each BRCA1 missense variant.
This research visualisation tool will serve as a quick one-stop publically available reference for all the BRCA1 missense variants that have been functionally assessed. It will facilitate meta-analysis of functional data and improve assessment of pathogenicity of VUS.
PMCID: PMC4392196  PMID: 25643705
Cancer: breast; Clinical genetics; Molecular genetics; BRCA1
Folic acid supplements can protect against neural tube defects (NTDs). Low folate and low vitamin B12 status may be maternal risk factors for having an NTD affected pregnancy. However, not all NTDs are preventable by having an adequate folate/ B12 status and other potentially modifiable factors may be involved. Folate and vitamin B12 status have important links to iron metabolism. Animal studies support an association between poor iron status and NTDs but human data are scarce. We examined the relevance of low iron status in a nested NTD case-control study of women within a pregnant population-based cohort.
Pregnant women were recruited between 1986 and 1990, when vitamin or iron supplementation in early pregnancy was rare. Blood samples, taken at an average of 14 weeks gestation, were used to measure ferritin and hemoglobin in 64 women during an NTD affected pregnancy and 207 women with unaffected pregnancies.
No significant differences in maternal ferritin or hemoglobin concentrations were observed between NTD affected and non-affected pregnancies (case median ferritin 16.8μg/L and hemoglobin 12.4g/dL versus 15.4μg/L and 12.3g/dL in controls). As reported previously, red cell folate and vitamin B12 concentrations were significantly lower in cases. Furthermore, there was no significant association of iron status with type of NTD lesion (anencephaly or spina bifida)
We conclude that low maternal iron status during early pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for NTDs. Adding iron to folic acid for periconceptional use may improve iron status but is not likely to prevent NTDs.
PMCID: PMC4018583  PMID: 24535840
ferritin; iron; hemoglobin; neural tube defects
4.  Replication and exploratory analysis of 24 candidate risk polymorphisms for neural tube defects 
BMC Medical Genetics  2014;15:102.
Neural tube defects (NTDs), which are among the most common congenital malformations, are influenced by environmental and genetic factors. Low maternal folate is the strongest known contributing factor, making variants in genes in the folate metabolic pathway attractive candidates for NTD risk. Multiple studies have identified nominally significant allelic associations with NTDs. We tested whether associations detected in a large Irish cohort could be replicated in an independent population.
Replication tests of 24 nominally significant NTD associations were performed in racially/ethnically matched populations. Family-based tests of fifteen nominally significant single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were repeated in a cohort of NTD trios (530 cases and their parents) from the United Kingdom, and case–control tests of nine nominally significant SNPs were repeated in a cohort (190 cases, 941 controls) from New York State (NYS). Secondary hypotheses involved evaluating the latter set of nine SNPs for NTD association using alternate case–control models and NTD groupings in white, African American and Hispanic cohorts from NYS.
Of the 24 SNPs tested for replication, ADA rs452159 and MTR rs10925260 were significantly associated with isolated NTDs. Of the secondary tests performed, ARID1A rs11247593 was associated with NTDs in whites, and ALDH1A2 rs7169289 was associated with isolated NTDs in African Americans.
We report a number of associations between SNP genotypes and neural tube defects. These associations were nominally significant before correction for multiple hypothesis testing. These corrections are highly conservative for association studies of untested hypotheses, and may be too conservative for replication studies. We therefore believe the true effect of these four nominally significant SNPs on NTD risk will be more definitively determined by further study in other populations, and eventual meta-analysis.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12881-014-0102-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4411759  PMID: 25293959
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Folate; Folic acid; One-carbon metabolism; Replication
5.  Future Health Applications of Genomics 
Despite the quickening momentum of genomic discovery, the communication, behavioral, and social sciences research needed for translating this discovery into public health applications has lagged behind. The National Human Genome Research Institute held a 2-day workshop in October 2008 convening an interdisciplinary group of scientists to recommend forward-looking priorities for translational research. This research agenda would be designed to redress the top three risk factors (tobacco use, poor diet, and physical inactivity) that contribute to the four major chronic diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lung disease, and many cancers) and account for half of all deaths worldwide. Three priority research areas were identified: (1) improving the public’s genetic literacy in order to enhance consumer skills; (2) gauging whether genomic information improves risk communication and adoption of healthier behaviors more than current approaches; and (3) exploring whether genomic discovery in concert with emerging technologies can elucidate new behavioral intervention targets. Important crosscutting themes also were identified, including the need to: (1) anticipate directions of genomic discovery; (2) take an agnostic scientific perspective in framing research questions asking whether genomic discovery adds value to other health promotion efforts; and (3) consider multiple levels of influence and systems that contribute to important public health problems. The priorities and themes offer a framework for a variety of stakeholders, including those who develop priorities for research funding, interdisciplinary teams engaged in genomics research, and policymakers grappling with how to use the products born of genomics research to address public health challenges.
PMCID: PMC4188632  PMID: 20409503
6.  Clinical and molecular features associated with biallelic mutations in FANCD1/BRCA2 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2006;44(1):1-9.
Patients with biallelic mutations in BRCA2 are in Fanconi anaemia group D1. We analysed the severity of the mutations in 27 cases, classified according to their association with breast cancer in heterozygotes, and their predicted functional effect. Twenty mutations were frameshifts or truncations, three involved splice sites, five were missense variants of unknown severity and two were benign polymorphisms. Five patients had VACTERL‐H association. Leukaemia was reported in 13 patients, and solid tumours in 15; 6 patients had two or more malignancies. The cumulative probability of any malignancy was 97% by age 5.2 years. IVS7+1G→A and IVS7+2T→G were associated with AML, and 886delGT and 6174delT with brain tumours. However, patients with other alleles remained at very high risk of these events. Missense mutations formed a distinct cluster in a highly conserved region of the BRCA2 protein.
The small group of patients with biallelic mutations in BRCA2 is distinctive in the severity of the phenotype, and early onset and high rates of leukaemia and specific solid tumours, and may comprise an extreme variant of Fanconi anaemia. Several of the alleles were not associated with cancer in presumed carriers, and thus counselling presents more uncertainties than usual.
PMCID: PMC2597904  PMID: 16825431
7.  Maternal Vitamin B12 Status and Risk of Neural Tube Defects in a Population With High Neural Tube Defect Prevalence and No Folic Acid Fortification 
Pediatrics  2009;123(3):917-923.
Folic acid fortification has reduced neural tube defect prevalence by 50% to 70%. It is unlikely that fortification levels will be increased to reduce neural tube defect prevalence further. Therefore, it is important to identify other modifiable risk factors. Vitamin B12 is metabolically related to folate; moreover, previous studies have found low B12 status in mothers of children affected by neural tube defect. Our objective was to quantify the effect of low B12 status on neural tube defect risk in a high-prevalence, unfortified population.
We assessed pregnancy vitamin B12 status concentrations in blood samples taken at an average of 15 weeks’ gestation from 3 independent nested case-control groups of Irish women within population-based cohorts, at a time when vitamin supplementation or food fortification was rare. Group 1 blood samples were from 95 women during a neural tube defect–affected pregnancy and 265 control subjects. Group 2 included blood samples from 107 women who had a previous neural tube defect birth but whose current pregnancy was not affected and 414 control subjects. Group 3 samples were from 76 women during an affected pregnancy and 222 control subjects.
Mothers of children affected by neural tube defect had significantly lower B12 status. In all 3 groups those in the lowest B12 quartiles, compared with the highest, had between two and threefold higher adjusted odds ratios for being the mother of a child affected by neural tube defect. Pregnancy blood B12 concentrations of <250 ng/L were associated with the highest risks.
Deficient or inadequate maternal vitamin B12 status is associated with a significantly increased risk for neural tube defects. We suggest that women have vitamin B12 levels of >300 ng/L (221 pmol/L) before becoming pregnant. Improving B12 status beyond this level may afford a further reduction in risk, but this is uncertain.
PMCID: PMC4161975  PMID: 19255021
vitamin B12; cobalamin; neural tube defects; folic acid fortification; folate
8.  Transcobalamin II Receptor Polymorphisms Are Associated with Increased Risk for Neural Tube Defects 
Journal of medical genetics  2010;47(10):677-685.
Women who have low cobalamin (vitamin B12) levels are at increased risk for having children with neural tube defects (NTDs). The transcobalamin II receptor (TCblR) mediates uptake of cobalamin into cells. We evaluated inherited variants in the TCblR gene as NTD risk factors.
Case-control and family-based tests of association were used to screen common variation in TCblR as genetic risk factors for NTDs in a large Irish group. A confirmatory group of NTD triads was used to test positive findings.
We found two tightly linked variants associated with NTDs in a recessive model: TCblR rs2336573 (G220R) (pcorr=0.0080, corrected for multiple hypothesis testing) and TCblR rs9426 (pcorr =0. 0279). These variants were also associated with NTDs in a family-based test prior to multiple test correction (log-linear analysis of a recessive model: rs2336573 (G220R) (RR=6.59, p=0.0037) and rs9426 (RR=6.71, p=0.0035)). We describe a copy number variant (CNV) distal to TCblR and two previously unreported exonic insertion-deletion polymorphisms.
TCblR rs2336573 (G220R) and TCblR rs9426 represent a significant risk factor in NTD cases in the Irish population. The homozygous risk genotype was not detected in nearly one thousand controls, indicating this NTD risk factor may be of low frequency and high penetrance. Nine other variants are in perfect LD with the associated SNPs. Additional work is required to identify the disease-causing variant. Our data suggest that variation in TCblR plays a role in NTD risk and that these variants may modulate cobalamin metabolism.
PMCID: PMC4112773  PMID: 20577008
neural tube defects; spina bifida; transcobalamin II receptor (TCblR); cobalamin; vitamin B12; copy number variant (CNV)
9.  Participation in Genetic Testing Research Varies by Social Group 
Public Health Genomics  2010;14(2):85-93.
Advances in technology have made individual access to personal genetic information foreseeable in the near future. Policy makers and the media forecast that the ready availability of personal genetic profiles would benefit both the individual and the health care system by improving outcomes and decreasing cost. However, there is a significant gap between having access to genetic data and either wanting or understanding the information it provides. Objective: Our primary aim was to evaluate, using a population-based sample of healthy adults, whether gender, race and education status influences interest and participation in a multiplex genetic susceptibility test.
Healthy, insured individuals, 25–40 years of age, were approached via a large, integrated health system in which primary and specialty care is available. Study participants were offered personalized genetic risk information on 8 common chronic health conditions. Social groups historically known not to participate in genetic research (men, African Americans and those from lower education neighborhoods) were oversampled. We describe the recruitment outcomes and testing decisions of these social groups.
We found that even among those with access to health care, African Americans were less likely to participate in the multiplex genetic susceptibility test, while those from higher education neighborhoods were more likely to participate.
Our results suggest that large social groups will likely be underrepresented in research in personalized genomics even when robust population-based recruitment strategies are employed.
PMCID: PMC3214933  PMID: 20299772
Multiplex genetic susceptibility test; Race; Gender; Education
10.  Genomics of CpG Methylation in Developing and Developed Zebrafish 
G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics  2014;4(5):861-869.
DNA methylation is a dynamic process through which specific chromatin modifications can be stably transmitted from parent to daughter cells. A large body of work has suggested that DNA methylation influences gene expression by silencing gene promoters. However, these conclusions were drawn from data focused mostly on promoter regions. Regarding the entire genome, it is unclear how methylation and gene transcription patterns are related during vertebrate development. To identify the genome-wide distribution of CpG methylation, we created series of high-resolution methylome maps of Danio rerio embryos during development and in mature, differentiated tissues. We found that embryonic and terminal tissues have unique methylation signatures in CpG islands and repetitive sequences. Fully differentiated tissues have increased CpG and LTR methylation and decreased SINE methylation relative to embryonic tissues. Unsupervised clustering analyses reveal that the embryonic and terminal tissues can be classified solely by their methylation patterning. Novel analyses also identify a previously undescribed genome-wide exon methylation signature. We also compared whole genome methylation with genome-wide mRNA expression levels using publicly available RNA-seq datasets. These comparisons revealed previously unrecognized relationships between gene expression, alternative splicing, and exon methylation. Surprisingly, we found that exonic methylation is a better predictor of mRNA expression level than promoter methylation. We also found that transcriptionally skipped exons have significantly less methylation than retained exons. Our integrative analyses reveal highly complex interplay between gene expression, alternative splicing, development, and methylation patterning in zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC4025485  PMID: 24657902
methylation; epigenetics; zebrafish; development; one-carbon metabolism
11.  Anorectal atresia and variants at predicted regulatory sites in candidate genes 
Annals of human genetics  2012;77(1):31-46.
Anorectal atresia is a serious birth defect of largely unknown etiology but candidate genes have been identified in animal studies and human syndromes. Because alterations in the activity of these genes might lead to anorectal atresia, we selected 71 common variants predicted to be in transcription factor binding sites, CpG windows, splice sites, and miRNA target sites of 25 candidate genes, and tested for their association with anorectal atresia. The study population comprised 150 anorectal atresia cases and 623 control infants without major malformations. Variants predicted to affect transcription factor binding, splicing, and DNA methylation in WNT3A, PCSK5, TCF4, MKKS, GLI2, HOXD12, and BMP4 were associated with anorectal atresia based on a nominal P value <0.05. The GLI2 and BMP4 variants are reported to be moderately associated with gene expression changes (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between −0.260 and 0.226). We did not find evidence for interaction between maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and variants in MKKS, a gene previously associated with obesity, on the risk of anorectal atresia. Our results for MKKS support previously suggested associations with anorectal malformations. Our findings suggest that more research is needed to determine whether altered GLI2 and BMP4 expression is important in anorectal atresia in humans.
PMCID: PMC3535506  PMID: 23127126
anorectal malformations; imperforate anus; hindgut; congenital abnormalities
12.  Evaluation of Genes Involved in Limb Development, Angiogenesis, and Coagulation as Risk Factors for Congenital Limb Deficiencies 
We conducted a population-based case-control study of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in selected genes to find common variants that play a role in the etiology of limb deficiencies (LD)s. Included in the study were 389 infants with LDs of unknown cause and 980 unaffected controls selected from all births in New York State (NYS) for the years 1998 to 2005. We used cases identified from the NYS Department of Health (DOH) Congenital Malformations Registry. Genotypes were obtained for 132 SNPs in genes involved in limb development (SHH, WNT7A, FGF4, FGF8, FGF10, TBX3, TBX5, SALL4, GREM1, GDF5, CTNNB1, EN1, CYP26A1, CYP26B1), angiogenesis (VEGFA, HIF1A, NOS3), and coagulation (F2, F5, MTHFR). Genotype call rates were >97% and SNPs were tested for departure from Hardy-Weinberg expectations by race/ethnic subgroups. For each SNP, odds ratios (OR)s and confidence intervals (CI)s were estimated and corrected for multiple comparisons for all LDs combined and for LD subtypes. Among non-Hispanic white infants, associations between FGF10 SNPs rs10805683 and rs13170645 and all LDs combined were statistically significant following correction for multiple testing (OR=1.99; 95% CI=1.43-2.77; uncorrected p=0.000043 for rs10805683 heterozygous genotype, and OR=2.37; 95% CI=1.48-3.78; uncorrected p=0.00032 for rs13170645 homozygous minor genotype). We also observed suggestive evidence for associations with SNPs in other genes including CYP26B1 and WNT7A. Animal studies have shown that FGF10 induces formation of the apical ectodermal ridge and is necessary for limb development. Our data suggest that common variants in FGF10 increase the risk for a wide range of non-syndromic limb deficiencies.
PMCID: PMC3448837  PMID: 22965740
limb deficiencies; polymorphisms; FGF10
13.  Hirschsprung’s disease and variants in genes that regulate enteric neural crest cell proliferation, migration and differentiation 
Journal of human genetics  2012;57(8):485-493.
Hirschsprung’s disease (HSCR) results from failed colonization of the embryonic gut by enteric neural crest cells (ENCCs); colonization requires RET proto-oncogene (RET) signaling. We sequenced RET to identify coding and splice-site variants in a population-based case group and we tested for associations between HSCR and common variants in RET and candidate genes (ASCL1, HOXB5, L1CAM, PHOX2B, PROK1, PROKR1) chosen because they are involved in ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation in animal models. We conducted a nested case-control study of 304 HSCR cases and 1 215 controls. Among 38 (12.5%) cases with 34 RET coding and splice-site variants, 18 variants were previously unreported. We confirmed associations with common variants in HOXB5 and PHOX2B but the associations with variants in ASCL1, L1CAM, and PROK1 were not significant after multiple comparisons adjustment. RET variants were strongly associated with HSCR (P values between 10−3 and 10−31) but this differed by race/ethnicity: associations were absent in African-Americans. Our population-based study not only identified novel RET variants in HSCR cases, it showed that common RET variants may not contribute to HSCR in all race/ethnic groups. The findings for HOXB5 and PHOX2B provide supportive evidence that genes regulating ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation could be risk factors for HSCR.
PMCID: PMC3503526  PMID: 22648184
congenital abnormalities; enteric nervous system; Hirschsprung disease; RET
15.  Association between Health Service Use and Multiplex Genetic Testing 
The identification of genetic variants associated with common disease is accelerating rapidly. “Multiplex tests” that give individuals feedback on large panels of genetic variants have proliferated. Availability of these test results may prompt consumers to use more healthcare services.
To examine whether offers of multiplex genetic testing increases healthcare utilization among healthy patients aged 25–40.
1,599 continuously insured adults aged 25–40 were surveyed and offered a multiplex genetic susceptibility test (MGST) for eight common health conditions.
Main Outcome Measure
Healthcare utilization from automated records was compared in 12 month pre- and post-test periods among persons who completed a baseline survey only (68.7%), those who visited a study Web site but opted not to test (17.8%), and those who chose the MGST (13.6%).
In the pre-test period, persons choosing genetic testing used an average of 1.02 physician visits per quarter compared to 0.93 and 0.82 for the other groups (p<0.05). There were no statistically significant differences by group in the pre-test use of any common medical tests or procedures associated with four common health conditions. When changes in physician and medical test/procedure use in the post-test period were compared among groups, no statistically significant differences were observed for any utilization category.
Persons offered and completing multiplex genetic susceptibility testing used more physician visits prior to testing, but testing was not associated with subsequent changes in use. This study supports that multiplex genetic testing offers can be provided directly to patients in such a way that use of health services are not inappropriately increased.
PMCID: PMC3424345  PMID: 22595941
genetic susceptibility; delivery of health care; genetic testing; genetic counseling
16.  Patient understanding of and responses to multiplex genetic susceptibility test results 
Examination of patients’ responses to direct-to-consumer genetic susceptibility tests is needed to inform clinical practice. This study examined patients’ recall and interpretation of, and responses to, genetic susceptibility test results provided directly by mail.
This observational study had 3 prospective assessments (before testing; 10 days after receiving results; 3 months later). Participants were 199 patients aged 25–40 who received free genetic susceptibility testing for 8 common health conditions.
Over 80% correctly recalled their results for the 8 health conditions. Patients were unlikely to interpret genetic results as deterministic of health outcomes (mean=6.0, SD=0.8 on 1–7 scale, 1 indicating strongly deterministic). In multivariate analyses, patients with the least deterministic interpretations were White (p=.0098), more educated (p=.0093), and least confused by results (p=.001). Only 1% talked about their results with a provider.
Findings suggest that most patients will correctly recall their results and will not interpret genetics as the sole cause of diseases. The subset of those confused by results could benefit from consultation with a health care provider, which could emphasize that health habits currently are the best predictors of risk. Providers could leverage patients’ interest in genetic tests to encourage behavior changes to reduce disease risk.
PMCID: PMC3417078  PMID: 22481132
Direct-to-consumer genetic tests; genetic testing; understanding; provider-patient communication; public health genomics
17.  Evaluation of 64 Candidate Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects in a Large Irish Study Population 
Individual studies of the genetics of neural tube defects (NTDs) contain results on a small number of genes in each report. To identify genetic risk factors for NTDs, we evaluated potentially functional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are biologically plausible risk factors for NTDs but that have never been investigated for an association with NTDs, examined SNPs that previously showed no association with NTDs in published studies, and tried to confirm previously reported associations in folate-related and non-folate-related genes. We investigated 64 SNPs in 34 genes for association with spina bifida in up to 558 case-families (520 cases, 507 mothers, 457 fathers) and 994 controls in Ireland. Case-control and mother-control comparisons of genotype frequencies, tests of transmission disequilibrium, and log-linear regression models were used to calculate effect estimates. Spina bifida was associated with over-transmission of the LEPR (leptin receptor) rs1805134 minor C allele (genotype relative risk (GRR): 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.0, 2.1; P = 0.0264) and the COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase) rs737865 major T allele (GRR: 1.4; 95% CI: 1.1, 2.0; P = 0.0206). After correcting for multiple comparisons, these individual test P-values exceeded 0.05. Consistent with previous reports, spina bifida was associated with MTHFR 677C>T, T (Brachyury) rs3127334, LEPR K109R, and PDGFRA promoter haplotype combinations. The associations between LEPR SNPs and spina bifida suggest a possible mechanism for the finding that obesity is a NTD risk factor. The association between a variant in COMT and spina bifida implicates methylation and epigenetics in NTDs.
PMCID: PMC3503244  PMID: 21204206
congenital abnormalities; folic acid; neural tube defects; single nucleotide polymorphism; spina bifida
18.  Testing reported associations of genetic risk factors for oral clefts in a large Irish study population 
Suggestive, but not conclusive, studies implicate many genetic variants in oral cleft etiology. We used a large, ethnically homogenous study population to test whether reported associations between nonsyndromic oral clefts and 12 genes (CLPTM1, CRISPLD2, FGFR2, GABRB3, GLI2, IRF6, PTCH1, RARA, RYK, SATB2, SUMO1, TGFA) could be confirmed.
Thirty-one single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in exons, splice sites, and conserved non-coding regions were studied in 509 patients with cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP), 383 with cleft palate only (CP), 838 mothers and 719 fathers of patients with oral clefts, and 902 controls from Ireland. Case-control and family-based statistical tests were performed using isolated oral clefts for the main analyses.
In case-control comparisons, the minor allele of PTCH1 A562A (rs2066836) was associated with reduced odds of CLP (OR: 0.29, 95% CI: 0.13–0.64 for homozygotes) whereas the minor allele of PTCH1 L1315P (rs357564) was associated with increased odds of CLP (OR: 1.36, 95% CI: 1.07–1.74 for heterozygotes and OR: 1.56, 95% CI: 1.09–2.24 for homozygotes). The minor allele of one SUMO1 SNP, rs3769817 located in intron 2, was associated with increased odds of CP (OR: 1.45, 95% CI: 1.06–1.99 for heterozygotes). Transmission disequilibrium was observed for the minor allele of TGFA V159V (rs2166975) which was over-transmitted to CP cases (P=0.041).
For 10 of the 12 genes, this is the largest candidate gene study of nonsyndromic oral clefts to date. The findings provide further evidence that PTCH1, SUMO1, and TGFA contribute to nonsyndromic oral clefts.
PMCID: PMC3503531  PMID: 19937600
cleft lip; cleft palate; congenital abnormalities
19.  Locus-Specific Databases (LSDBs) and Recommendations to Strengthen Their Contribution to the Classification of Variants in Cancer Susceptibility Genes 
Human mutation  2008;29(11):1273-1281.
Locus Specific Databases (LSDBs) are curated collections of sequence variants in genes associated with disease. LSDBs of cancer-related genes often serve as a critical resource to researchers, diagnostic laboratories, clinicians, and others in the cancer genetics community. LSDBs are poised to play an important role in disseminating clinical classification of variants. The IARC Working Group on Unclassified Genetic Variants has proposed a new system of five classes of variants in cancer susceptibility genes. However, standards are lacking for reporting and analyzing the multiple data types that assist in classifying variants. By adhering to standards of transparency and consistency in the curation and annotation of data, LSDBs can be critical for organizing our understanding of how genetic variation relates to disease. This article discusses how LSDBs can accomplish these goals, using existing databases for BRCA1, BRCA2, MSH2, MLH1, TP53, and CDKN2A to illustrate the progress and remaining challenges in this field. We recommend that: 1) LSDBs should only report a conclusion related to pathogenicity if a consensus has been reached by an expert panel; 2) The system used to classify variants should be standardized. The Working Group encourages use of the five class system described in Plon et al (2008); 3) Evidence that supports a conclusion should be reported in the database, including sources and criteria used for assignment; 4) Variants should only be classified as pathogenic if more than one type of evidence has been considered, and 5) All instances of all variants should be recorded.
PMCID: PMC3446852  PMID: 18951438
locus specific databases; LSDBs; BIC; mismatch repair; cancer; unclassified variant; variant of unknown significance; pathogenic
20.  Evaluation of common genetic variants in 82 candidate genes as risk factors for neural tube defects 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:62.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common birth defects (~1 in 1000 pregnancies in the US and Europe) that have complex origins, including environmental and genetic factors. A low level of maternal folate is one well-established risk factor, with maternal periconceptional folic acid supplementation reducing the occurrence of NTD pregnancies by 50-70%. Gene variants in the folate metabolic pathway (e.g., MTHFR rs1801133 (677 C > T) and MTHFD1 rs2236225 (R653Q)) have been found to increase NTD risk. We hypothesized that variants in additional folate/B12 pathway genes contribute to NTD risk.
A tagSNP approach was used to screen common variation in 82 candidate genes selected from the folate/B12 pathway and NTD mouse models. We initially genotyped polymorphisms in 320 Irish triads (NTD cases and their parents), including 301 cases and 341 Irish controls to perform case–control and family based association tests. Significantly associated polymorphisms were genotyped in a secondary set of 250 families that included 229 cases and 658 controls. The combined results for 1441 SNPs were used in a joint analysis to test for case and maternal effects.
Nearly 70 SNPs in 30 genes were found to be associated with NTDs at the p < 0.01 level. The ten strongest association signals (p-value range: 0.0003–0.0023) were found in nine genes (MFTC, CDKN2A, ADA, PEMT, CUBN, GART, DNMT3A, MTHFD1 and T (Brachyury)) and included the known NTD risk factor MTHFD1 R653Q (rs2236225). The single strongest signal was observed in a new candidate, MFTC rs17803441 (OR = 1.61 [1.23-2.08], p = 0.0003 for the minor allele). Though nominally significant, these associations did not remain significant after correction for multiple hypothesis testing.
To our knowledge, with respect to sample size and scope of evaluation of candidate polymorphisms, this is the largest NTD genetic association study reported to date. The scale of the study and the stringency of correction are likely to have contributed to real associations failing to survive correction. We have produced a ranked list of variants with the strongest association signals. Variants in the highest rank of associations are likely to include true associations and should be high priority candidates for further study of NTD risk.
PMCID: PMC3458983  PMID: 22856873
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Folic acid; One-carbon metabolism; Candidate gene
21.  A Founder Mutation in LEPRE1 Carried by 1.5% of West Africans and 0.4% of African Americans Causes Lethal Recessive Osteogenesis Imperfecta 
Genetics in Medicine  2012;14(5):543-551.
Deficiency of prolyl 3-hydroxylase 1, encoded by LEPRE1, causes recessive osteogenesis imperfecta. We previously identified a LEPRE1 mutation, exclusively in African Americans and contemporary West Africans. We hypothesized that this allele originated in West Africa and was introduced to the Americas with the Atlantic slave trade. We aimed to determine the frequency of carriers for this mutation among African Americans and West Africans, and the mutation origin and age.
Genomic DNA was screened for the mutation using PCR and restriction digestion, and a custom TaqMan genomic SNP assay. The mutation age was estimated using microsatellites and short tandem repeats spanning 4.2 Mb surrounding LEPRE1 in probands and carriers.
Approximately 0.4% of Mid-Atlantic African Americans carry this mutation, estimating recessive OI in 1/260,000 births in this population. In Nigeria and Ghana, 1.48% of unrelated individuals are heterozygous carriers, predicting 1/18,260 births will be affected with recessive OI, equal to the incidence of de novo dominant OI. The mutation was not detected in Africans from surrounding countries. All carriers shared a haplotype of 63-770 Kb, consistent with a single founder for this mutation. Using linkage disequilibrium analysis, the mutation was estimated to have originated between 650 and 900 years before present (1100-1350 C.E.).
We identified a West African founder mutation for recessive OI in LEPRE1. Nearly 1.5% of Ghanians and Nigerians are carriers. The age of this allele is consistent with introduction to North America via the Atlantic slave trade (1501 – 1867 C.E).
PMCID: PMC3393768  PMID: 22281939
LEPRE1; osteogenesis imperfecta; founder mutation; West Africa
22.  Folate and Vitamin B12 Related Genes and Risk for Omphalocele 
Human Genetics  2011;131(5):739-746.
Both taking folic acid-containing vitamins around conception and consuming food fortified with folic acid have been reported to reduce omphalocele rates. Genetic factors are etiologically important in omphalocele as well; our pilot study showed a relationship with the folate metabolic enzyme gene methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). We studied 169 non-aneuploid omphalocele cases and 761 unaffected, matched controls from all New York State births occurring between 1998 and 2005 to look for associations with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) known to be important in folate, vitamin B12, or choline metabolism. In the total study population, variants in the transcobalamin receptor gene (TCblR), rs2232775 (Q8R), and the MTHFR gene, rs1801131 (1298A>C), were significantly associated with omphalocele. In African-Americans significant associations were found with SNPs in genes for the vitamin B12 transporter (TCN2) and the vitamin B12 receptor (TCblR). A SNP in the homocysteine-related gene, betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase (BHMT), rs3733890 (R239Q), was significantly associated with omphalocele in both African-Americans and Asians. Only the TCblR association in the total population remained statistically significant if Bonferroni correction was applied. The finding that transcobalamin receptor (TCblR) and transporter (TCN2) SNPs and a BHMT SNP were associated with omphalocele suggests that disruption of methylation reactions, in which folate, vitamin B12, and homocysteine play critical parts, may be a risk factor for omphalocele. Our data, if confirmed, suggest that supplements containing both folic acid and vitamin B12 may be beneficial in preventing omphaloceles.
PMCID: PMC3374579  PMID: 22116453
omphalocele; folate; vitamin B12; homocysteine; transcobalamin; transcobalamin receptor
23.  Maternal vitamin levels in pregnancies affected by congenital malformations other than neural tube defects 
Periconceptional use of folic acid prevents most neural tube defects (NTDs). Whether folic acid and/or multivitamins can prevent other congenital anomalies is not clear. This study tested whether maternal blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 in pregnancies affected by congenital malformations excluding NTDs are lower when compared to non-affected pregnancies.
We measured pregnancy red cell folate (RCF), vitamin B12, and homocysteine (tHcy) concentrations in blood samples taken at the first antenatal clinic in Dublin maternity hospitals in 1986–1990 when vitamin supplementation was rare. The cases were mothers who delivered a baby with a congenital malformation other than NTD identified by the Dublin EUROCAT Registry; controls were a systematic sample of mothers of offspring without congenital malformations from the same hospitals in the same time period.
The median maternal levels of RCF and tHcy did not differ significantly between cases and controls for any of the congenital malformation groups examined (RCF: all malformations 275.9 ug/L v controls 271.2; p=0.77; tHcy: all malformations 7.5 umol/L v controls 7.6; p=0.57). In an unadjusted analysis vitamin B12 was significantly higher in case-mothers whose babies had cleft palate only (p=0.006), musculoskeletal malformations (p=0.034) and midline defects (p=0.039) but not after adjustment for multiple testing.
Our data suggest that low maternal folate and B12 levels or high tHcy levels in early pregnancy are not associated with all congenital malformations excluding NTDs. Fortification with folic acid or B12 may not have a beneficial effect in the prevention of these anomalies.
PMCID: PMC3372895  PMID: 21591245
24.  Characteristics of users of online personalized genomic risk assessments: Implications for physician-patient interactions 
Genetics in Medicine  2009;11(8):582-587.
To evaluate what psychological and behavioral factors predict who is likely to seek SNP-based genetic test for multiple common health conditions where feedback can be used to motivate primary prevention.
Adults aged 25 to 40, who were enrolled in a large managed care organization were surveyed. Those eligible could log on to a secure study Web site to review information about the risks and benefits of a SNP-based genetic test and request free testing. Two primary outcomes are addressed: Accessing the Web (yes, no) and deciding to be tested (completed a blood draw at the clinic)
Those considering genetic susceptibility testing did hold genetically deterministic beliefs (0.42 on scale of 0-behavior to 1-genetic), but believed genetic information to be valuable and were confident they could understand such information. Individuals who believed it important to learn about genetics (OR=1.28), were confident they could understand genetics (OR=1.26), and reported the most health habits to change (OR=1.39) were most likely to get tested.
Physician-patient interactions could benefit if physicians develop “net friendly” strategies to capitalize on patients’ interest in online genetics information and leverage the interaction as a teachable moment to encourage family health history assessment and improved health behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3341609  PMID: 19606049
personalized genomics; risk assessment; internet; psychosocial predictors
25.  Disruption of the folate pathway in zebrafish causes developmental defects 
Folic acid supplementation reduces the risk of neural tube defects and congenital heart defects. The biological mechanisms through which folate prevents birth defects are not well understood. We explore the use of zebrafish as a model system to investigate the role of folate metabolism during development.
We first identified zebrafish orthologs of 12 human folate metabolic genes. RT-PCR and in situ analysis indicated maternal transcripts supply the embryo with mRNA so that the embryo has an intact folate pathway. To perturb folate metabolism we exposed zebrafish embryos to methotrexate (MTX), a potent inhibitor of dihydrofolate reductase (Dhfr) an essential enzyme in the folate metabolic pathway. Embryos exposed to high doses of MTX exhibited developmental arrest prior to early segmentation. Lower doses of MTX resulted in embryos with a shortened anterior-posterior axis and cardiac defects: linear heart tubes or incomplete cardiac looping. Inhibition of dhfr mRNA with antisense morpholino oligonucleotides resulted in embryonic lethality. One function of the folate pathway is to provide essential one-carbon units for dTMP synthesis, a rate-limiting step of DNA synthesis. After 24 hours of exposure to high levels of MTX, mutant embryos continue to incorporate the thymidine analog BrdU. However, additional experiments indicate that these embryos have fewer mitotic cells, as assayed with phospho-histone H3 antibodies, and that treated embryos have perturbed cell cycles.
Our studies demonstrate that human and zebrafish utilize similar one-carbon pathways. Our data indicate that folate metabolism is essential for early zebrafish development. Zebrafish studies of the folate pathway and its deficiencies could provide insight into the underlying etiology of human birth defects and the natural role of folate in development.
PMCID: PMC3410756  PMID: 22480165

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