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1.  Translational studies of lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 in inflammation and atherosclerosis 
To examine the role of lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 (Lp-PLA2/PLA2G7) in human inflammation and coronary atherosclerosis.
Lp-PLA2 has emerged as a potential therapeutic target in coronary heart disease (CHD). Data supporting Lp-PLA2 are indirect and confounded by species differences; whether Lp-PLA2 is causal in CHD remains in question.
We examined inflammatory regulation of Lp-PLA2 during experimental endotoxemia in human, probed the source of Lp-PLA2 in human leukocytes under inflammatory conditions, and assessed the relationship of variation in PLA2G7, the gene encoding Lp-PLA2, with coronary artery calcification (CAC).
In contrast to circulating TNFα and CRP, blood and monocyte Lp-PLA2 mRNA decreased transiently, and plasma Lp-PLA2 mass declined modestly during endotoxemia. In vitro, Lp-PLA2 expression increased dramatically during human monocyte to macrophage differentiation and further in inflammatory macrophages and foam like-cells. Despite only a marginal association of SNPs in PLA2G7 with Lp-PLA2 activity or mass, numerous PLA2G7 SNPs were associated with CAC. In contrast, several SNPs in CRP were significantly associated with plasma CRP levels but had no relation with CAC.
Circulating Lp-PLA2 did not increase during acute phase response in human, while inflammatory macrophages and foam cells, but not circulating monocytes, are major leukocyte sources of Lp-PLA2. Common genetic variation in PLA2G7 is associated with sub-clinical coronary atherosclerosis. These data link Lp-PLA2 to atherosclerosis in human while highlighting the challenge in using circulating Lp-PLA2 as a biomarker of Lp-PLA2 actions in the vasculature.
PMCID: PMC3285416  PMID: 22340269
2.  Aortic vascular inflammation in psoriasis is associated with HDL particle size and concentration: a pilot study 
Psoriasis is a model Th1-mediated inflammatory disease associated with increased incidence of stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD). The mechanism behind these associations is unknown, however abnormal HDL particle composition measured by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy has been shown to be associated with CVD. Using [18F]-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET/CT), a validated surrogate marker of CVD, we assessed whether HDL particle size and concentration were associated with vascular inflammation in patients with psoriasis. Patients with psoriasis were prospectively enrolled (439 aortic samples from 10 patients). Lipoprotein profiles using NMR spectroscopy were obtained and the relationship between vascular inflammation within the thoracic aorta by FDG-PET/CT was analyzed for association with lipoprotein particle characteristics. The plasma total cholesterol (206 mg/dL (IQR 154-229)), LDL (105 (90-161)), and triglyceride levels were within normal range (151 (94-191)) while HDL levels were low (28.9 (27.2-31.3)); however, the NMR profile demonstrated an atherogenic profile with increased small LDL and HDL particles. Total HDL particle concentration (p<0.001) and HDL particle size (p<0.001) were associated with decreased aortic inflammation, while concentration of small HDL particles was associated with increased inflammation (p<0.001). The association of total HDL particle concentration (β -0.0113, p=0.002) and small HDL particle concentration (β 0.026, p<0.001) with aortic inflammation persisted following adjustment for CVD risk factors. Total HDL particle concentration and small HDL particle concentration were associated with vascular inflammation within the thoracic aorta in psoriasis. These findings suggest that HDL particle characteristics may play an important role in psoriatic vascular inflammation and CVD.
PMCID: PMC3499940  PMID: 23173102
Psoriasis; inflammation; atherosclerosis; high-density lipoprotein cholesterol particle; FDG PET CT
3.  The novel atherosclerosis locus at 10q11 regulates plasma CXCL12 levels 
European Heart Journal  2011;32(8):963-971.
Two single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), rs1746048 and rs501120, from genome wide association studies of coronary artery disease (CAD) map to chromosome 10q11 ∼80 kb downstream of chemokine CXCL12. Therefore, we examined the relationship between these two SNPs and plasma CXCL12 levels.
Methods and Results
We tested the association of two SNPs with plasma CXCL12 levels in a two-stage study (n= 2939): first in PennCath (n= 1182), a Caucasian, angiographic CAD case–control study, and second in PennCAC (n= 1757), a community-based study of CAD risk factors. Plasma CXCL12 levels increased with age and did not vary by gender. There was no linkage disequilibrium between these two SNPs and SNPs within CXCL12 gene. However, CAD risk alleles at rs1746048 (C allele, P= 0.034; CC 2.33 ± 0.49, CT 2.27 ± 0.46, and TT 2.21 ± 0.52 ng/mL) and rs501120 (T allele, P= 0.041; TT 2.34 ± 0.49, CT 2.28 ± 0.46, and CC 2.23 ± 0.53 ng/mL) were associated with higher plasma levels of CXCL12 in age and gender adjusted models. In Stage 2, we confirmed this association (rs501120, T allele, P= 0.007), and meta-analysis strengthened this finding (n= 2939, P= 6.0 × 10−4). Finally, in exploratory analysis, the rs1746048 risk allele tended to have higher transcript levels of CXCL12 in human natural killer cells and the liver.
Coronary artery disease risk alleles downstream of CXCL12 are associated with plasma protein levels of CXCL12 and appear to be related to CXCL12 transcript levels in two human cell lines. This implicates CXCL12 as potentially causal and supports CXCL12 as a potential therapeutic target for CAD.
PMCID: PMC3076669  PMID: 21415067
Myocardial infarction; Cardiovascular genomics; Chemokines; CXCL12; Inflammation
4.  Dense Genotyping of Candidate Gene Loci Identifies Variants Associated with High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol 
Plasma levels of high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) are known to be heritable, but only a fraction of the heritability is explained. We used a high density genotyping array containing SNPs from HDL-C candidate genes selected on known biology of HDL-C metabolism, mouse genetic studies, and human genetic association studies. SNP selection was based on tagging-SNPs but also included low-frequency nonsynonymous SNPs.
Methods and Results
Association analysis in a cohort containing extremes of HDL-C (case-control, n=1733) provided a discovery phase, with replication in three additional populations for a total meta-analysis in 7,857 individuals. We replicated the majority of loci identified through genome wide association studies and present on the array (including ABCA1, APOA1/C3/A4/A5, APOB, APOE/C1/C2, CETP, CTCF-PRMT8, FADS1/2/3, GALNT2, LCAT, LILRA3, LIPC, LIPG, LPL, LRP4, SCARB1, TRIB1, ZNF664), and provide evidence suggestive of association in several previously unreported candidate gene loci (including ABCG1, GPR109A/B/81, NFKB1, PON1/2/3/4). There was evidence for multiple, independent association signals in five loci, including association with low frequency nonsynonymous variants.
Genetic loci associated with HDL-C are likely to harbor multiple, independent causative variants, frequently with opposite effects on the HDL-C phenotype. Cohorts composed of extreme individuals may be efficiently used in a case-control discovery of quantitative traits.
PMCID: PMC3319351  PMID: 21303902
lipids; genetic association; HDL cholesterol; cardiovascular diseases
5.  Mining the LIPG Allelic Spectrum Reveals the Contribution of Rare and Common Regulatory Variants to HDL Cholesterol 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(12):e1002393.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have successfully identified loci associated with quantitative traits, such as blood lipids. Deep resequencing studies are being utilized to catalogue the allelic spectrum at GWAS loci. The goal of these studies is to identify causative variants and missing heritability, including heritability due to low frequency and rare alleles with large phenotypic impact. Whereas rare variant efforts have primarily focused on nonsynonymous coding variants, we hypothesized that noncoding variants in these loci are also functionally important. Using the HDL-C gene LIPG as an example, we explored the effect of regulatory variants identified through resequencing of subjects at HDL-C extremes on gene expression, protein levels, and phenotype. Resequencing a portion of the LIPG promoter and 5′ UTR in human subjects with extreme HDL-C, we identified several rare variants in individuals from both extremes. Luciferase reporter assays were used to measure the effect of these rare variants on LIPG expression. Variants conferring opposing effects on gene expression were enriched in opposite extremes of the phenotypic distribution. Minor alleles of a common regulatory haplotype and noncoding GWAS SNPs were associated with reduced plasma levels of the LIPG gene product endothelial lipase (EL), consistent with its role in HDL-C catabolism. Additionally, we found that a common nonfunctional coding variant associated with HDL-C (rs2000813) is in linkage disequilibrium with a 5′ UTR variant (rs34474737) that decreases LIPG promoter activity. We attribute the gene regulatory role of rs34474737 to the observed association of the coding variant with plasma EL levels and HDL-C. Taken together, the findings show that both rare and common noncoding regulatory variants are important contributors to the allelic spectrum in complex trait loci.
Author Summary
Genetic association studies have identified genomic regions that affect quantifiable traits such as lipid levels. When a gene and a trait are found to be associated with one another, the gene is often further studied to determine its role in affecting the trait. One approach is to sequence the gene in individuals at the extremes of the trait's distribution with the hope of finding rare mutations that directly contribute to the trait. Until now studies using this approach have focused on genetic variation in the protein coding sequence of these genes and have been largely successful in identifying functionally important mutations. However, other studies have found an abundance of noncoding variation in the genome that may also contribute to the heritability of these traits. Here we seek to determine the contribution of such noncoding mutations to high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels in humans using the HDL-C candidate gene LIPG as an example. Through a sequencing study in individuals with high and low HDL-C levels, we demonstrate that both rare and common noncoding mutations are influential contributors to the allelic spectrum of such traits and should be further characterized after initial association with the trait.
PMCID: PMC3234219  PMID: 22174694
6.  Loss-of-function variants in endothelial lipase are a cause of elevated HDL cholesterol in humans 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2009;119(4):1042-1050.
Elevated plasma concentrations of HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) are associated with protection from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Animal models indicate that decreased expression of endothelial lipase (LIPG) is inversely associated with HDL-C levels, and genome-wide association studies have identified LIPG variants as being associated with HDL-C levels in humans. We hypothesized that loss-of-function mutations in LIPG may result in elevated HDL-C and therefore performed deep resequencing of LIPG exons in cases with elevated HDL-C levels and controls with decreased HDL-C levels. We identified a significant excess of nonsynonymous LIPG variants unique to cases with elevated HDL-C. In vitro lipase activity assays demonstrated that these variants significantly decreased endothelial lipase activity. In addition, a meta-analysis across 5 cohorts demonstrated that the low-frequency Asn396Ser variant is significantly associated with increased HDL-C, while the common Thr111Ile variant is not. Functional analysis confirmed that the Asn396Ser variant has significantly decreased lipase activity both in vitro and in vivo, while the Thr111Ile variant has normal lipase activity. Our results establish that loss-of-function mutations in LIPG lead to increased HDL-C levels and support the idea that inhibition of endothelial lipase may be an effective mechanism to raise HDL-C.
PMCID: PMC2662558  PMID: 19287092
7.  Concept, Design and Implementation of a Cardiovascular Gene-Centric 50 K SNP Array for Large-Scale Genomic Association Studies 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3583.
A wealth of genetic associations for cardiovascular and metabolic phenotypes in humans has been accumulating over the last decade, in particular a large number of loci derived from recent genome wide association studies (GWAS). True complex disease-associated loci often exert modest effects, so their delineation currently requires integration of diverse phenotypic data from large studies to ensure robust meta-analyses. We have designed a gene-centric 50 K single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array to assess potentially relevant loci across a range of cardiovascular, metabolic and inflammatory syndromes. The array utilizes a “cosmopolitan” tagging approach to capture the genetic diversity across ∼2,000 loci in populations represented in the HapMap and SeattleSNPs projects. The array content is informed by GWAS of vascular and inflammatory disease, expression quantitative trait loci implicated in atherosclerosis, pathway based approaches and comprehensive literature searching. The custom flexibility of the array platform facilitated interrogation of loci at differing stringencies, according to a gene prioritization strategy that allows saturation of high priority loci with a greater density of markers than the existing GWAS tools, particularly in African HapMap samples. We also demonstrate that the IBC array can be used to complement GWAS, increasing coverage in high priority CVD-related loci across all major HapMap populations. DNA from over 200,000 extensively phenotyped individuals will be genotyped with this array with a significant portion of the generated data being released into the academic domain facilitating in silico replication attempts, analyses of rare variants and cross-cohort meta-analyses in diverse populations. These datasets will also facilitate more robust secondary analyses, such as explorations with alternative genetic models, epistasis and gene-environment interactions.
PMCID: PMC2571995  PMID: 18974833

Results 1-7 (7)