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1.  Upstream Transcription Factor 1 (USF1) allelic variants regulate lipoprotein metabolism in women and USF1 expression in atherosclerotic plaque 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:4650.
Upstream transcription factor 1 (USF1) allelic variants significantly influence future risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality in females. We investigated sex-specific effects of USF1 gene allelic variants on serum indices of lipoprotein metabolism, early markers of asymptomatic atherosclerosis and their changes during six years of follow-up. In addition, we investigated the cis-regulatory role of these USF1 variants in artery wall tissues in Caucasians. In the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, 1,608 participants (56% women, aged 31.9 ± 4.9) with lipids and cIMT data were included. For functional study, whole genome mRNA expression profiling was performed in 91 histologically classified atherosclerotic samples. In females, serum total, LDL cholesterol and apoB levels increased gradually according to USF1 rs2516839 genotypes TT < CT < CC and rs1556259 AA < AG < GG as well as according to USF1 H3 (GCCCGG) copy number 0 < 1 < 2. Furthermore, the carriers of minor alleles of rs2516839 (C) and rs1556259 (G) of USF1 gene had decreased USF1 expression in atherosclerotic plaques (P = 0.028 and 0.08, respectively) as compared to non-carriers. The genetic variation in USF1 influence USF1 transcript expression in advanced atherosclerosis and regulates levels and metabolism of circulating apoB and apoB-containing lipoprotein particles in sex-dependent manner, but is not a major determinant of early markers of atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC3983598  PMID: 24722012
2.  Carotid artery elasticity decreases during pregnancy - the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns study 
The aims were to evaluate the effect of pregnancy on carotid artery elasticity and determine the associations between maternal lipids, endothelial function and arterial elasticity during pregnancy.
We examined 99 pregnant and 99 matched non-pregnant control women as part of a population-based prospective cohort study. Carotid artery elasticity indexes; carotid artery distensibility (CAD), Young’s elastic modulus (YEM) and stiffness index (SI) as well as brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMD) were assessed using ultrasound; serum lipid levels were also determined.
SI was 57% and YEM 75% higher and CAD 36% lower in the third trimester group than the corresponding values in the first trimester group. Serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels were significantly higher in women at the end of the pregnancy than at the beginning of pregnancy (P < 0.001) and in controls (P < 0.001). In multivariate analysis, gestational age was the only independent correlate of arterial elasticity in pregnant women. In controls, age (P ≤ 0.001) and common carotid diameter (P = 0.001-0.029) were associated with SI, YEM and CAD.
The present study revealed that carotid artery elasticity declined towards the end of the pregnancy; this neither is straight correlating with maternal hyperlipidemia or the diameter of the carotid artery nor is it associated with changes in endothelial function.
PMCID: PMC3975714  PMID: 24602149
Carotid artery; Elasticity; Pregnancy; Distensibility; Arterial stiffness; The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns study
3.  Branched-Chain and Aromatic Amino Acids Are Predictors of Insulin Resistance in Young Adults 
Diabetes Care  2013;36(3):648-655.
Branched-chain and aromatic amino acids are associated with the risk for future type 2 diabetes; however, the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. We tested whether amino acids predict insulin resistance index in healthy young adults.
Circulating isoleucine, leucine, valine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and six additional amino acids were quantified in 1,680 individuals from the population-based Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study (baseline age 32 ± 5 years; 54% women). Insulin resistance was estimated by homeostasis model assessment (HOMA) at baseline and 6-year follow-up. Amino acid associations with HOMA of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) and glucose were assessed using regression models adjusted for established risk factors. We further examined whether amino acid profiling could augment risk assessment of insulin resistance (defined as 6-year HOMA-IR >90th percentile) in early adulthood.
Isoleucine, leucine, valine, phenylalanine, and tyrosine were associated with HOMA-IR at baseline and for men at 6-year follow-up, while for women only leucine, valine, and phenylalanine predicted 6-year HOMA-IR (P < 0.05). None of the other amino acids were prospectively associated with HOMA-IR. The sum of branched-chain and aromatic amino acid concentrations was associated with 6-year insulin resistance for men (odds ratio 2.09 [95% CI 1.38–3.17]; P = 0.0005); however, including the amino acid score in prediction models did not improve risk discrimination.
Branched-chain and aromatic amino acids are markers of the development of insulin resistance in young, normoglycemic adults, with most pronounced associations for men. These findings suggest that the association of branched-chain and aromatic amino acids with the risk for future diabetes is at least partly mediated through insulin resistance.
PMCID: PMC3579331  PMID: 23129134
4.  Chromosome X-Wide Association Study Identifies Loci for Fasting Insulin and Height and Evidence for Incomplete Dosage Compensation 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(2):e1004127.
The X chromosome (chrX) represents one potential source for the “missing heritability” for complex phenotypes, which thus far has remained underanalyzed in genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Here we demonstrate the benefits of including chrX in GWAS by assessing the contribution of 404,862 chrX SNPs to levels of twelve commonly studied cardiometabolic and anthropometric traits in 19,697 Finnish and Swedish individuals with replication data on 5,032 additional Finns. By using a linear mixed model, we estimate that on average 2.6% of the additive genetic variance in these twelve traits is attributable to chrX, this being in proportion to the number of SNPs in the chromosome. In a chrX-wide association analysis, we identify three novel loci: two for height (rs182838724 near FGF16/ATRX/MAGT1, joint P-value = 2.71×10−9, and rs1751138 near ITM2A, P-value = 3.03×10−10) and one for fasting insulin (rs139163435 in Xq23, P-value = 5.18×10−9). Further, we find that effect sizes for variants near ITM2A, a gene implicated in cartilage development, show evidence for a lack of dosage compensation. This observation is further supported by a sex-difference in ITM2A expression in whole blood (P-value = 0.00251), and is also in agreement with a previous report showing ITM2A escapes from X chromosome inactivation (XCI) in the majority of women. Hence, our results show one of the first links between phenotypic variation in a population sample and an XCI-escaping locus and pinpoint ITM2A as a potential contributor to the sexual dimorphism in height. In conclusion, our study provides a clear motivation for including chrX in large-scale genetic studies of complex diseases and traits.
Author Summary
The X chromosome (chrX) analyses have often been neglected in large-scale genome-wide association studies. Given that chrX contains a considerable proportion of DNA, we wanted to examine how the variation in the chromosome contributes to commonly studied phenotypes. To this end, we studied the associations of over 400,000 chrX variants with twelve complex phenotypes, such as height, in almost 25,000 Northern European individuals. Demonstrating the value of assessing chrX associations, we found that as a whole the variation in the chromosome influences the levels of many of these phenotypes and further identified three new genomic regions where the variants associate with height or fasting insulin levels. In one of these three associated regions, the region near ITM2A, we observed that there is a sex difference in the genetic effects on height in a manner consistent with a lack of dosage compensation in this locus. Further supporting this observation, ITM2A has been shown to be among those chrX genes where the X chromosome inactivation is incomplete. Identifying phenotype associations in regions like this where chrX allele dosages are not balanced between men and women can be particularly valuable in helping us to understand why some characteristics differ between sexes.
PMCID: PMC3916240  PMID: 24516404
5.  Cohort Profile: The International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort (i3C) Consortium 
This is a consortium of large children's cohorts that contain measurements of major cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in childhood and had the ability to follow those cohorts into adulthood. The purpose of this consortium is to enable the pooling of data to increase power, most importantly for the follow-up of CVD events in adulthood. Within the consortium, we hope to be able to obtain data on the independent effects of childhood and early adult levels of CVD risk factors on subsequent CVD occurrence.
PMCID: PMC3600617  PMID: 22434861
6.  High Risk Population Isolate Reveals Low Frequency Variants Predisposing to Intracranial Aneurysms 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(1):e1004134.
3% of the population develops saccular intracranial aneurysms (sIAs), a complex trait, with a sporadic and a familial form. Subarachnoid hemorrhage from sIA (sIA-SAH) is a devastating form of stroke. Certain rare genetic variants are enriched in the Finns, a population isolate with a small founder population and bottleneck events. As the sIA-SAH incidence in Finland is >2× increased, such variants may associate with sIA in the Finnish population. We tested 9.4 million variants for association in 760 Finnish sIA patients (enriched for familial sIA), and in 2,513 matched controls with case-control status and with the number of sIAs. The most promising loci (p<5E-6) were replicated in 858 Finnish sIA patients and 4,048 controls. The frequencies and effect sizes of the replicated variants were compared to a continental European population using 717 Dutch cases and 3,004 controls. We discovered four new high-risk loci with low frequency lead variants. Three were associated with the case-control status: 2q23.3 (MAF 2.1%, OR 1.89, p 1.42×10-9); 5q31.3 (MAF 2.7%, OR 1.66, p 3.17×10-8); 6q24.2 (MAF 2.6%, OR 1.87, p 1.87×10-11) and one with the number of sIAs: 7p22.1 (MAF 3.3%, RR 1.59, p 6.08×-9). Two of the associations (5q31.3, 6q24.2) replicated in the Dutch sample. The 7p22.1 locus was strongly differentiated; the lead variant was more frequent in Finland (4.6%) than in the Netherlands (0.3%). Additionally, we replicated a previously inconclusive locus on 2q33.1 in all samples tested (OR 1.27, p 1.87×10-12). The five loci explain 2.1% of the sIA heritability in Finland, and may relate to, but not explain, the increased incidence of sIA-SAH in Finland. This study illustrates the utility of population isolates, familial enrichment, dense genotype imputation and alternate phenotyping in search for variants associated with complex diseases.
Author Summary
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been extensively used to identify common genetic variants associated with complex diseases. As common genetic variants have explained only a small fraction of the heritability of most complex diseases, there is a growing interest in the role of how low frequency and rare variants contribute to the susceptibility. Low frequency variants are more often specific to populations of distinct ancestries. Saccular intracranial aneurysms (sIA) are balloon-like dilatations in the arteries on the surface of the brain. The rupture of sIA causes life-threatening intracranial bleeding. sIA is a complex disease, which is known to sometimes run in families. Here, we utilize the recent advancements in knowledge of genetic variation in different populations to examine the role of low-frequency variants in sIA disease in the isolated population of Finland where sIA related strokes are more common than in most other populations. By studying >8000 Finns we identify four low-frequency variants associated with the sIA disease. We also show that the association of two of the variants are seen in other European populations as well. Our findings demonstrate that multiple study designs are needed to uncover more comprehensively their genetic background, including population isolates.
PMCID: PMC3907358  PMID: 24497844
7.  Meta-Analysis Investigating Associations Between Healthy Diet and Fasting Glucose and Insulin Levels and Modification by Loci Associated With Glucose Homeostasis in Data From 15 Cohorts 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2012;177(2):103-115.
Whether loci that influence fasting glucose (FG) and fasting insulin (FI) levels, as identified by genome-wide association studies, modify associations of diet with FG or FI is unknown. We utilized data from 15 US and European cohort studies comprising 51,289 persons without diabetes to test whether genotype and diet interact to influence FG or FI concentration. We constructed a diet score using study-specific quartile rankings for intakes of whole grains, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds (favorable) and red/processed meats, sweets, sugared beverages, and fried potatoes (unfavorable). We used linear regression within studies, followed by inverse-variance-weighted meta-analysis, to quantify 1) associations of diet score with FG and FI levels and 2) interactions of diet score with 16 FG-associated loci and 2 FI-associated loci. Diet score (per unit increase) was inversely associated with FG (β = −0.004 mmol/L, 95% confidence interval: −0.005, −0.003) and FI (β = −0.008 ln-pmol/L, 95% confidence interval: −0.009, −0.007) levels after adjustment for demographic factors, lifestyle, and body mass index. Genotype variation at the studied loci did not modify these associations. Healthier diets were associated with lower FG and FI concentrations regardless of genotype at previously replicated FG- and FI-associated loci. Studies focusing on genomic regions that do not yield highly statistically significant associations from main-effect genome-wide association studies may be more fruitful in identifying diet-gene interactions.
PMCID: PMC3707424  PMID: 23255780
diabetes; dietary pattern; gene-environment interaction; glucose; insulin
8.  Genotype Prediction of Adult Type 2 Diabetes From Adolescence in a Multiracial Population 
Pediatrics  2012;130(5):e1235-e1242.
Understanding the risk for type 2 diabetes (T2D) early in the life course is important for prevention. Whether genetic information improves prediction models for diabetes from adolescence into adulthood is unknown.
With the use of data from 1030 participants in the Bogalusa Heart Study aged 12 to 18 followed into middle adulthood, we built Cox models for incident T2D with risk factors assessed in adolescence (demographics, family history, physical examination, and routine biomarkers). Models with and without a 38 single-nucleotide polymorphism diabetes genotype score were compared by C statistics and continuous net reclassification improvement indices.
Participant mean (± SD) age at baseline was 14.4 ± 1.6 years, and 32% were black. Ninety (8.7%) participants developed T2D over a mean 26.9 ± 5.0 years of follow-up. Genotype score significantly predicted T2D in all models. Hazard ratios ranged from 1.09 per risk allele (95% confidence interval 1.03–1.15) in the basic demographic model to 1.06 (95% confidence interval 1.00–1.13) in the full model. The addition of genotype score did not improve the discrimination of the full clinical model (C statistic 0.756 without and 0.760 with genotype score). In the full model, genotype score had weak improvement in reclassification (net reclassification improvement index 0.261).
Although a genotype score assessed among white and black adolescents is significantly associated with T2D in adulthood, it does not improve prediction over clinical risk factors. Genetic screening for T2D in its current state is not a useful addition to adolescents’ clinical care.
PMCID: PMC3483893  PMID: 23071215
genetic predisposition to disease; diabetes mellitus, type 2; adolescent medicine
9.  Maintenance of genetic variation in human personality: Testing evolutionary models by estimating heritability due to common causal variants and investigating the effect of distant inbreeding 
Personality traits are basic dimensions of behavioural variation, and twin, family, and adoption studies show that around 30% of the between-individual variation is due to genetic variation. There is rapidly-growing interest in understanding the evolutionary basis of this genetic variation. Several evolutionary mechanisms could explain how genetic variation is maintained in traits, and each of these makes predictions in terms of the relative contribution of rare and common genetic variants to personality variation, the magnitude of nonadditive genetic influences, and whether personality is affected by inbreeding. Using genome-wide SNP data from >8,000 individuals, we estimated that little variation in the Cloninger personality dimensions (7.2% on average) is due to the combined effect of common, additive genetic variants across the genome, suggesting that most heritable variation in personality is due to rare variant effects and/or a combination of dominance and epistasis. Furthermore, higher levels of inbreeding were associated with less socially-desirable personality trait levels in three of the four personality dimensions. These findings are consistent with genetic variation in personality traits having been maintained by mutation-selection balance.
PMCID: PMC3518920  PMID: 23025612
balancing selection; mutation-selection balance; antagonistic pleiotropy; correlational selection; neutral; trade-offs; personality; temperament; mutation; evolution; behavioural syndromes
10.  A Meta-Analysis of Genome-Wide Association Studies of the Electrocardiographic Early Repolarization Pattern 
The early repolarization pattern (ERP) is common and associated with risk of sudden cardiac death. ERP is heritable and mutations have been described in syndromatic cases.
To conduct a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to identify common genetic variants influencing ERP.
We ascertained ERP based on electrocardiograms in three large community-based cohorts from Europe and the US: the Framingham Heart Study, the Health 2000 Study, and the KORA F4 Study. We analyzed GWAS in participants with and without ERP by logistic regression assuming an additive genetic model and meta-analyzed individual cohort results. We then sought to strengthen support for findings that reached p≤1×10−5 in independent individuals by direct genotyping or in-silico analysis of genome-wide data. We meta-analyzed the results from both stages.
Of 7482 individuals in the discovery stage, 452 showed ERP (ERP positive: mean age 46.9±8.9 years, 30.3% women; ERP negative: 47.5±9.4 years, 54.2% women). After meta-analysis, eight single nucleotide polymorphisms reached p≤1×10−5: The most significant finding was intergenic rs11653989 (odds ratio 0.47; 95% confidence interval 0.36–0.61; p=6.9×10−9). The most biologically relevant finding was intronic to KCND3: rs17029069 (odds ratio 1.46; 95% confidence interval 1.25–1.69; p=8.5×10−7). In the replication step (7151 individuals), none of the eight variants replicated, and combined meta-analysis results failed to reach genome-wide significance.
In a GWAS, we were not able to reliably identify genetic variants predisposing to ERP, presumably due to insufficient statistical power and phenotype heterogeneity. The reported heritability of ERP warrants continued investigation in larger well-phenotyped populations.
PMCID: PMC3459269  PMID: 22683750
Early repolarization; Sudden cardiac death; Arrhythmia; GWAS; Meta-analysis; Electrocardiogram
11.  Genome-wide association analysis identifies susceptibility loci for migraine without aura 
Nature genetics  2012;44(7):777-782.
Migraine without aura is the most common form of migraine, characterized by recurrent disabling headache and associated autonomic symptoms. To identify common genetic variants for this migraine type, we analyzed genome-wide association data of 2,326 clinic-based German and Dutch patients and 4,580 population-matched controls. We selected SNPs from 12 loci with two or more SNPs with P-values < 1 × 10−5 for follow-up in 2,508 patients and 2,652 controls. Two loci, i.e. 1q22 (MEF2D) and 3p24 (near TGFBR2) replicated convincingly (P = 4.9 × 10−4, P = 1.0 × 10−4, respectively). Meta-analysis of the discovery and replication data yielded two additional genome-wide significant (P < 5 × 10−8) loci in PHACTR1 and ASTN2. In addition, SNPs in two previously reported migraine loci in or near TRPM8 and LRP1 significantly replicated. This study reveals the first susceptibility loci for migraine without aura, thereby expanding our knowledge of this debilitating neurological disorder.
PMCID: PMC3773912  PMID: 22683712
12.  Childhood Nutrition in Predicting Metabolic Syndrome in Adults 
Diabetes Care  2012;35(9):1937-1943.
Our aim was to study the associations of childhood lifestyle factors (the frequency of consumption of vegetables, fruit, fish, and meat, butter use on bread, and physical activity) with the metabolic syndrome (MetS) in adulthood.
The study cohort consisted of 2,128 individuals, 3–18 years of age at the baseline, with a follow-up time of 27 years. We used the average of lifestyle factor measurements taken in 1980, 1983, and 1986 in the analyses. Childhood dietary factors and physical activity were assessed by self-reported questionnaires, and a harmonized definition of MetS was used as the adult outcome.
Childhood vegetable consumption frequency was inversely associated with adult MetS (odds ratio [OR] 0.86 [95% CI 0.77–0.97], P = 0.02) in a multivariable analysis adjusted with age, sex, childhood metabolic risk factors (lipids, systolic blood pressure, insulin, BMI, and C-reactive protein), family history of type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and socioeconomic status. The association remained even after adjustment for adulthood vegetable consumption. Associations with the other childhood lifestyle factors were not found. Of the individual components of MetS, decreased frequency of childhood vegetable consumption predicted high blood pressure (0.88 [0.80–0.98], P = 0.01) and a high triglyceride value (0.88 [0.79–0.99], P = 0.03) after adjustment for the above-mentioned risk factors.
Childhood vegetable consumption frequency is inversely associated with MetS in adulthood. Our findings suggest that a higher intake of vegetables in childhood may have a protective effect on MetS in adulthood.
PMCID: PMC3425009  PMID: 22815293
13.  New loci associated with birth weight identify genetic links between intrauterine growth and adult height and metabolism 
Horikoshi, Momoko | Yaghootkar, Hanieh | Mook-Kanamori, Dennis O. | Sovio, Ulla | Taal, H. Rob | Hennig, Branwen J. | Bradfield, Jonathan P. | St. Pourcain, Beate | Evans, David M. | Charoen, Pimphen | Kaakinen, Marika | Cousminer, Diana L. | Lehtimäki, Terho | Kreiner-Møller, Eskil | Warrington, Nicole M. | Bustamante, Mariona | Feenstra, Bjarke | Berry, Diane J. | Thiering, Elisabeth | Pfab, Thiemo | Barton, Sheila J. | Shields, Beverley M. | Kerkhof, Marjan | van Leeuwen, Elisabeth M. | Fulford, Anthony J. | Kutalik, Zoltán | Zhao, Jing Hua | den Hoed, Marcel | Mahajan, Anubha | Lindi, Virpi | Goh, Liang-Kee | Hottenga, Jouke-Jan | Wu, Ying | Raitakari, Olli T. | Harder, Marie N. | Meirhaeghe, Aline | Ntalla, Ioanna | Salem, Rany M. | Jameson, Karen A. | Zhou, Kaixin | Monies, Dorota M. | Lagou, Vasiliki | Kirin, Mirna | Heikkinen, Jani | Adair, Linda S. | Alkuraya, Fowzan S. | Al-Odaib, Ali | Amouyel, Philippe | Andersson, Ehm Astrid | Bennett, Amanda J. | Blakemore, Alexandra I.F. | Buxton, Jessica L. | Dallongeville, Jean | Das, Shikta | de Geus, Eco J. C. | Estivill, Xavier | Flexeder, Claudia | Froguel, Philippe | Geller, Frank | Godfrey, Keith M. | Gottrand, Frédéric | Groves, Christopher J. | Hansen, Torben | Hirschhorn, Joel N. | Hofman, Albert | Hollegaard, Mads V. | Hougaard, David M. | Hyppönen, Elina | Inskip, Hazel M. | Isaacs, Aaron | Jørgensen, Torben | Kanaka-Gantenbein, Christina | Kemp, John P. | Kiess, Wieland | Kilpeläinen, Tuomas O. | Klopp, Norman | Knight, Bridget A. | Kuzawa, Christopher W. | McMahon, George | Newnham, John P. | Niinikoski, Harri | Oostra, Ben A. | Pedersen, Louise | Postma, Dirkje S. | Ring, Susan M. | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Robertson, Neil R. | Sebert, Sylvain | Simell, Olli | Slowinski, Torsten | Tiesler, Carla M.T. | Tönjes, Anke | Vaag, Allan | Viikari, Jorma S. | Vink, Jacqueline M. | Vissing, Nadja Hawwa | Wareham, Nicholas J. | Willemsen, Gonneke | Witte, Daniel R. | Zhang, Haitao | Zhao, Jianhua | Wilson, James F. | Stumvoll, Michael | Prentice, Andrew M. | Meyer, Brian F. | Pearson, Ewan R. | Boreham, Colin A.G. | Cooper, Cyrus | Gillman, Matthew W. | Dedoussis, George V. | Moreno, Luis A | Pedersen, Oluf | Saarinen, Maiju | Mohlke, Karen L. | Boomsma, Dorret I. | Saw, Seang-Mei | Lakka, Timo A. | Körner, Antje | Loos, Ruth J.F. | Ong, Ken K. | Vollenweider, Peter | van Duijn, Cornelia M. | Koppelman, Gerard H. | Hattersley, Andrew T. | Holloway, John W. | Hocher, Berthold | Heinrich, Joachim | Power, Chris | Melbye, Mads | Guxens, Mònica | Pennell, Craig E. | Bønnelykke, Klaus | Bisgaard, Hans | Eriksson, Johan G. | Widén, Elisabeth | Hakonarson, Hakon | Uitterlinden, André G. | Pouta, Anneli | Lawlor, Debbie A. | Smith, George Davey | Frayling, Timothy M. | McCarthy, Mark I. | Grant, Struan F.A. | Jaddoe, Vincent W.V. | Jarvelin, Marjo-Riitta | Timpson, Nicholas J. | Prokopenko, Inga | Freathy, Rachel M.
Nature genetics  2012;45(1):76-82.
Birth weight within the normal range is associated with a variety of adult-onset diseases, but the mechanisms behind these associations are poorly understood1. Previous genome-wide association studies identified a variant in the ADCY5 gene associated both with birth weight and type 2 diabetes, and a second variant, near CCNL1, with no obvious link to adult traits2. In an expanded genome-wide association meta-analysis and follow-up study (up to 69,308 individuals of European descent from 43 studies), we have now extended the number of genome-wide significant loci to seven, accounting for a similar proportion of variance to maternal smoking. Five of the loci are known to be associated with other phenotypes: ADCY5 and CDKAL1 with type 2 diabetes; ADRB1 with adult blood pressure; and HMGA2 and LCORL with adult height. Our findings highlight genetic links between fetal growth and postnatal growth and metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3605762  PMID: 23202124
14.  Scrutiny of the CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4 smoking behavior locus reveals a novel association with alcohol use in a Finnish population based study 
The CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4 gene cluster on chromosome 15q25.1 encoding the cholinergic nicotinic receptor subunits is robustly associated with smoking behavior and nicotine dependence. Only a few studies to date have examined the locus with alcohol related traits and found evidence of association with alcohol abuse and dependence. Our main goal was to examine the role of three intensively studied single nucleotide polymorphisms, rs16969968, rs578776 and rs588765, tagging three distinct loci, in alcohol use. Our sample was drawn from two independent Finnish population-based surveys, the National FINRISK Study and the Health 2000 (Health Examination) Survey. The combined sample included a total of 32,592 adult Finns (54% women) of whom 8,356 were assessed for cigarettes per day (CPD). Data on alcohol use were available for 31,812 individuals. We detected a novel association between rs588765 and alcohol use defined as abstainers and low-frequency drinkers versus drinkers (OR=1.15, p=0.00007). Additionally, we provide precise estimates of strength of the association between the three loci and smoking quantity in a very large population based sample. As a conclusion, our results provide further evidence for the nicotine-specific role of rs16969968 (locus 1). Further, our data suggest that the effect of rs588765 (locus 3) may be specific to alcohol use as the effect is seen also in never smokers.
PMCID: PMC3709115  PMID: 23875064
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors; 15q25.1; alcohol use; smoking behavior; public health; population-based sample; genetic association
15.  Metabolic Signatures of Insulin Resistance in 7,098 Young Adults 
Diabetes  2012;61(6):1372-1380.
Metabolite associations with insulin resistance were studied in 7,098 young Finns (age 31 ± 3 years; 52% women) to elucidate underlying metabolic pathways. Insulin resistance was assessed by the homeostasis model (HOMA-IR) and circulating metabolites quantified by high-throughput nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in two population-based cohorts. Associations were analyzed using regression models adjusted for age, waist, and standard lipids. Branched-chain and aromatic amino acids, gluconeogenesis intermediates, ketone bodies, and fatty acid composition and saturation were associated with HOMA-IR (P < 0.0005 for 20 metabolite measures). Leu, Ile, Val, and Tyr displayed sex- and obesity-dependent interactions, with associations being significant for women only if they were abdominally obese. Origins of fasting metabolite levels were studied with dietary and physical activity data. Here, protein energy intake was associated with Val, Phe, Tyr, and Gln but not insulin resistance index. We further tested if 12 genetic variants regulating the metabolites also contributed to insulin resistance. The genetic determinants of metabolite levels were not associated with HOMA-IR, with the exception of a variant in GCKR associated with 12 metabolites, including amino acids (P < 0.0005). Nonetheless, metabolic signatures extending beyond obesity and lipid abnormalities reflected the degree of insulin resistance evidenced in young, normoglycemic adults with sex-specific fingerprints.
PMCID: PMC3357275  PMID: 22511205
16.  Ideal Cardiovascular Health in Young Adult Populations From the United States, Finland, and Australia and Its Association With cIMT: The International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort Consortium 
Goals for cardiovascular (CV) disease prevention were set by the American Heart Association in 2010 for the concept of CV health. Ideal CV health is defined by 7 CV health metrics: blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, body mass index, and physical activity on recommended levels; nonsmoking; and a healthy diet. We studied the prevalence of ideal CV health and its associations with ultrasonographically measured carotid intima‐media thickness (cIMT) cross‐sectionally in 5 international populations.
Methods and Results
Prevalence of ideal CV health was assessed among 5785 young adults (age, 36.6±3.2 years) comprising 335 participants from the Minneapolis Childhood Cohort Studies (Minnesota), 723 from the Princeton Follow‐up Study, 981 from the Bogalusa Heart Study (BHS), 1898 from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study (YFS), and 1848 from the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study (CDAH). Only 1% of the participants had all 7 ideal CV health metrics. The number of ideal CV health metrics associated inversely with cIMT in the 4 cohorts in which cIMT was available: for each additional ideal CV health metric, cIMT was 12.7 μm thinner in Minnesota (P=0.0002), 9.1 μm thinner in BHS (P=0.05), 10.4 μm thinner in YFS (P<0.0001), and 3.4 μm thinner in CDAH (P=0.03).
The number of ideal CV health metrics was inversely associated with cIMT in the cohorts in which cIMT was available, indicating that ideal CV health metrics are associated with vascular health at the population level. Ideal CV health was rare in this large international sample of young adults, emphasizing the need for effective strategies for health promotion.
PMCID: PMC3698791  PMID: 23782922
cardiovascular; carotid intima‐media thickness; cohort studies; health behavior
17.  Genome-wide association study identifies multiple loci influencing human serum metabolite levels 
Nature genetics  2012;44(3):269-276.
Nuclear magnetic resonance assays allow for measurement of a wide range of metabolic phenotypes. We report here the results of a GWAS on 8,330 Finnish individuals genotyped and imputed at 7.7 million SNPs for a range of 216 serum metabolic phenotypes assessed by NMR of serum samples. We identified significant associations (P < 2.31 × 10−10) at 31 loci, including 11 for which there have not been previous reports of associations to a metabolic trait or disorder. Analyses of Finnish twin pairs suggested that the metabolic measures reported here show higher heritability than comparable conventional metabolic phenotypes. In accordance with our expectations, SNPs at the 31 loci associated with individual metabolites account for a greater proportion of the genetic component of trait variance (up to 40%) than is typically observed for conventional serum metabolic phenotypes. The identification of such associations may provide substantial insight into cardiometabolic disorders.
PMCID: PMC3605033  PMID: 22286219
18.  Genetic Determinants of Trabecular and Cortical Volumetric Bone Mineral Densities and Bone Microstructure 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(2):e1003247.
Most previous genetic epidemiology studies within the field of osteoporosis have focused on the genetics of the complex trait areal bone mineral density (aBMD), not being able to differentiate genetic determinants of cortical volumetric BMD (vBMD), trabecular vBMD, and bone microstructural traits. The objective of this study was to separately identify genetic determinants of these bone traits as analysed by peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT). Separate GWA meta-analyses for cortical and trabecular vBMDs were performed. The cortical vBMD GWA meta-analysis (n = 5,878) followed by replication (n = 1,052) identified genetic variants in four separate loci reaching genome-wide significance (RANKL, rs1021188, p = 3.6×10−14; LOC285735, rs271170, p = 2.7×10−12; OPG, rs7839059, p = 1.2×10−10; and ESR1/C6orf97, rs6909279, p = 1.1×10−9). The trabecular vBMD GWA meta-analysis (n = 2,500) followed by replication (n = 1,022) identified one locus reaching genome-wide significance (FMN2/GREM2, rs9287237, p = 1.9×10−9). High-resolution pQCT analyses, giving information about bone microstructure, were available in a subset of the GOOD cohort (n = 729). rs1021188 was significantly associated with cortical porosity while rs9287237 was significantly associated with trabecular bone fraction. The genetic variant in the FMN2/GREM2 locus was associated with fracture risk in the MrOS Sweden cohort (HR per extra T allele 0.75, 95% confidence interval 0.60–0.93) and GREM2 expression in human osteoblasts. In conclusion, five genetic loci associated with trabecular or cortical vBMD were identified. Two of these (FMN2/GREM2 and LOC285735) are novel bone-related loci, while the other three have previously been reported to be associated with aBMD. The genetic variants associated with cortical and trabecular bone parameters differed, underscoring the complexity of the genetics of bone parameters. We propose that a genetic variant in the RANKL locus influences cortical vBMD, at least partly, via effects on cortical porosity, and that a genetic variant in the FMN2/GREM2 locus influences GREM2 expression in osteoblasts and thereby trabecular number and thickness as well as fracture risk.
Author Summary
Osteoporosis is a common highly heritable skeletal disease characterized by reduced bone mineral density (BMD) and deteriorated bone microstructure, resulting in an increased risk of fracture. Most previous genetic epidemiology studies have focused on the genetics of the complex trait BMD, not being able to separate genetic determinants of the trabecular and cortical bone compartments and bone microstructure. The trabecular and cortical BMDs can be analysed separately by computed tomography. Therefore, we performed separate genome-wide association studies for trabecular and cortical BMDs, demonstrating that the genetic determinants of cortical and trabecular BMDs differ. Genetic variants in the RANKL, LOC285735, OPG, and ESR1 loci were associated with cortical BMD, while a genetic variant in the FMN2/GREM2 locus was associated with trabecular BMD. Two of these are novel bone-related loci. Follow-up analyses of bone microstructure demonstrated that a genetic variant in the RANKL locus is associated with cortical porosity and that the FMN2/GREM2 locus is associated with trabecular number and thickness. We propose that a genetic variant in the RANKL locus influences cortical BMD via effects on cortical porosity, and that a genetic variant in the FMN2/GREM2 locus influences trabecular BMD and fracture risk via effects on both trabecular number and thickness.
PMCID: PMC3578773  PMID: 23437003
19.  Causal Relationship between Obesity and Vitamin D Status: Bi-Directional Mendelian Randomization Analysis of Multiple Cohorts 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001383.
A mendelian randomization study based on data from multiple cohorts conducted by Karani Santhanakrishnan Vimaleswaran and colleagues re-examines the causal nature of the relationship between vitamin D levels and obesity.
Obesity is associated with vitamin D deficiency, and both are areas of active public health concern. We explored the causality and direction of the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] using genetic markers as instrumental variables (IVs) in bi-directional Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis.
Methods and Findings
We used information from 21 adult cohorts (up to 42,024 participants) with 12 BMI-related SNPs (combined in an allelic score) to produce an instrument for BMI and four SNPs associated with 25(OH)D (combined in two allelic scores, separately for genes encoding its synthesis or metabolism) as an instrument for vitamin D. Regression estimates for the IVs (allele scores) were generated within-study and pooled by meta-analysis to generate summary effects.
Associations between vitamin D scores and BMI were confirmed in the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium (n = 123,864). Each 1 kg/m2 higher BMI was associated with 1.15% lower 25(OH)D (p = 6.52×10−27). The BMI allele score was associated both with BMI (p = 6.30×10−62) and 25(OH)D (−0.06% [95% CI −0.10 to −0.02], p = 0.004) in the cohorts that underwent meta-analysis. The two vitamin D allele scores were strongly associated with 25(OH)D (p≤8.07×10−57 for both scores) but not with BMI (synthesis score, p = 0.88; metabolism score, p = 0.08) in the meta-analysis. A 10% higher genetically instrumented BMI was associated with 4.2% lower 25(OH)D concentrations (IV ratio: −4.2 [95% CI −7.1 to −1.3], p = 0.005). No association was seen for genetically instrumented 25(OH)D with BMI, a finding that was confirmed using data from the GIANT consortium (p≥0.57 for both vitamin D scores).
On the basis of a bi-directional genetic approach that limits confounding, our study suggests that a higher BMI leads to lower 25(OH)D, while any effects of lower 25(OH)D increasing BMI are likely to be small. Population level interventions to reduce BMI are expected to decrease the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Obesity—having an unhealthy amount of body fat—is increasing worldwide. In the US, for example, a third of the adult population is now obese. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI, an indicator of body fat calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared) of more than 30.0 kg/m2. Although there is a genetic contribution to obesity, people generally become obese by consuming food and drink that contains more energy than they need for their daily activities. Thus, obesity can be prevented by having a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Compared to people with a healthy weight, obese individuals have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and tend to die younger. They also have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, another increasingly common public health concern. Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones as well as other functions, is made in the skin after exposure to sunlight but can also be obtained through the diet and through supplements.
Why Was This Study Done?
Observational studies cannot prove that obesity causes vitamin D deficiency because obese individuals may share other characteristics that reduce their circulating 25-hydroxy vitamin D [25(OH)D] levels (referred to as confounding). Moreover, observational studies cannot indicate whether the larger vitamin D storage capacity of obese individuals (vitamin D is stored in fatty tissues) lowers their 25(OH)D levels or whether 25(OH)D levels influence fat accumulation (reverse causation). If obesity causes vitamin D deficiency, monitoring and treating vitamin D deficiency might alleviate some of the adverse health effects of obesity. Conversely, if low vitamin D levels cause obesity, encouraging people to take vitamin D supplements might help to control the obesity epidemic. Here, the researchers use bi-directional “Mendelian randomization” to examine the direction and causality of the relationship between BMI and 25(OH)D. In Mendelian randomization, causality is inferred from associations between genetic variants that mimic the influence of a modifiable environmental exposure and the outcome of interest. Because gene variants do not change over time and are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. Thus, if a lower vitamin D status leads to obesity, genetic variants associated with lower 25(OH)D concentrations should be associated with higher BMI, and if obesity leads to a lower vitamin D status, then genetic variants associated with higher BMI should be associated with lower 25(OH)D concentrations.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers created a “BMI allele score” based on 12 BMI-related gene variants and two “25(OH)D allele scores,” which are based on gene variants that affect either 25(OH)D synthesis or breakdown. Using information on up to 42,024 participants from 21 studies, the researchers showed that the BMI allele score was associated with both BMI and with 25(OH)D levels among the study participants. Based on this information, they calculated that each 10% increase in BMI will lead to a 4.2% decrease in 25(OH)D concentrations. By contrast, although both 25(OH)D allele scores were strongly associated with 25(OH)D levels, neither score was associated with BMI. This lack of an association between 25(OH)D allele scores and obesity was confirmed using data from more than 100,000 individuals involved in 46 studies that has been collected by the GIANT (Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits) consortium.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that a higher BMI leads to a lower vitamin D status whereas any effects of low vitamin D status on BMI are likely to be small. That is, these findings provide evidence for obesity as a causal factor in the development of vitamin D deficiency but not for vitamin D deficiency as a causal factor in the development of obesity. These findings suggest that population-level interventions to reduce obesity should lead to a reduction in the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and highlight the importance of monitoring and treating vitamin D deficiency as a means of alleviating the adverse influences of obesity on health.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish); a data brief provides information about the vitamin D status of the US population
The World Health Organization provides information on obesity (in several languages)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides detailed information about obesity and a link to a personal story about losing weight; it also provides information about vitamin D
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about the global obesity epidemic
The US Department of Agriculture's website provides a personal healthy eating plan; the Weight-control Information Network is an information service provided for the general public and health professionals by the US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (in English and Spanish)
The US Office of Dietary Supplements provides information about vitamin D (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus has links to further information about obesity and about vitamin D (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
Overview and details of the collaborative large-scale genetic association study (D-CarDia) provide information about vitamin D and the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and related traits
PMCID: PMC3564800  PMID: 23393431
Hypertension  2011;58(6):1079-1085.
Clinical relevance of a genetic predisposition to elevated blood pressure was quantified during the transition from childhood to adulthood in a population-based Finnish cohort (N=2,357). Blood pressure was measured at baseline in 1980 (age 3–18 years) and in follow-ups in 1983, 1986, 2001 and 2007. Thirteen single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with blood pressure were genotyped and three genetic risk scores associated with systolic and diastolic blood pressure and their combination were derived for all participants. Effects of the genetic risk score were 0.47 mmHg for systolic and 0.53 mmHg for diastolic blood pressure (both p<0.01). The combination genetic risk score was associated with diastolic blood pressure from age 9 onwards (β=0.68 mmHg, p=0.015). Replications in 1194 participants of the Bogalusa Heart Study showed essentially similar results. The participants in the highest quintile of the combination genetic risk score had a 1.82-fold risk of hypertension in adulthood (p<0.0001) compared with the lowest quintile, independent of a family history of premature hypertension. These findings show that genetic variants are associated with preclinical blood pressure traits in childhood, individuals with several susceptibility alleles have on average a 0.5 mmHg higher blood pressure and this trajectory continues from childhood to adulthood.
PMCID: PMC3247907  PMID: 22025373
Epidemiological study; Genetic risk score; Blood Pressure; Cardiovascular disease
22.  Pairwise Measures of Causal Direction in the Epidemiology of Sleep Problems and Depression 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50841.
Depressive mood is often preceded by sleep problems, suggesting that they increase the risk of depression. Sleep problems can also reflect prodromal symptom of depression, thus temporal precedence alone is insufficient to confirm causality. The authors applied recently introduced statistical causal-discovery algorithms that can estimate causality from cross-sectional samples in order to infer the direction of causality between the two sets of symptoms from a novel perspective. Two common-population samples were used; one from the Young Finns study (690 men and 997 women, average age 37.7 years, range 30–45), and another from the Wisconsin Longitudinal study (3101 men and 3539 women, average age 53.1 years, range 52–55). These included three depression questionnaires (two in Young Finns data) and two sleep problem questionnaires. Three different causality estimates were constructed for each data set, tested in a benchmark data with a (practically) known causality, and tested for assumption violations using simulated data. Causality algorithms performed well in the benchmark data and simulations, and a prediction was drawn for future empirical studies to confirm: for minor depression/dysphoria, sleep problems cause significantly more dysphoria than dysphoria causes sleep problems. The situation may change as depression becomes more severe, or more severe levels of symptoms are evaluated; also, artefacts due to severe depression being less well presented in the population data than minor depression may intervene the estimation for depression scales that emphasize severe symptoms. The findings are consistent with other emerging epidemiological and biological evidence.
PMCID: PMC3511346  PMID: 23226400
23.  Selenium Status and Blood Lipids: The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study 
Journal of internal medicine  2011;270(5):469-477.
Concern has been recently raised about possible adverse cardio-metabolic effects of high selenium status, such as increased risks of diabetes and hyperlipidemia. However, most of the evidence comes from selenium-replete populations such as the US.
To examine cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of serum selenium with cardiovascular risk factors in Finland where selenium levels were among the lowest in the world until the early 1980s before the implementation of a nationwide selenium fertilization program.
Serum selenium was measured in 1,235 young Finns aged 3-18 years at baseline in 1980 (pre-fertilization), and in a subgroup (N=262) at the 6-year follow-up (1986, post-fertilization). During the 27-year follow-up, serum lipids, blood pressure, BMI, and smoking were assessed five times (1980, 1983, 1986, 2001, and 2007).
Mean (±SD) serum selenium concentrations were 74.3±14.0 ng/mL in 1980 and 106.6±12.5 ng/mL in 1986 (average increase 32.3 ng/mL; 95% CI: 30.3 to 34.3, p<0.0001). In univariate and multivariable cross-sectional models in 1980 and 1986, increased serum selenium levels were consistently associated with increased total, HDL- and LDL-cholesterol. However, the average longitudinal changes in lipids were −0.20 mmol/L (95% CI: −0.30 to −0.10, p<0.0001) for total cholesterol, 0.06 mmol/L (95% CI: 0.03 to 0.10, p<0.0001) for HDL-cholesterol, and −0.23 mmol/L (95% CI: −0.31 to −0.14, p<0.0001) for LDL-cholesterol. Selenium measured in 1986 was not associated with lipids assessed in 2001 and 2007.
Cross-sectional findings from the Young Finns study corroborate positive associations of selenium status with serum lipids. However, longitudinal evidence does not support the causality of this link.
PMCID: PMC3172343  PMID: 21554435
cardiovascular; cross-sectional; follow-up; lipids; risk factors; selenium
24.  Genome-Wide Screen for Metabolic Syndrome Susceptibility Loci Reveals Strong Lipid Gene Contribution but No Evidence for Common Genetic Basis for Clustering of Metabolic Syndrome Traits 
Genome-wide association (GWA) studies have identified several susceptibility loci for metabolic syndrome (MetS) component traits, but have had variable success in identifying susceptibility loci to the syndrome as an entity. We conducted a GWA study on MetS and its component traits in four Finnish cohorts consisting of 2637 MetS cases and 7927 controls, both free of diabetes, and followed the top loci in an independent sample with transcriptome and NMR-based metabonomics data. Furthermore, we tested for loci associated with multiple MetS component traits using factor analysis and built a genetic risk score for MetS.
Methods and Results
A previously known lipid locus, APOA1/C3/A4/A5 gene cluster region (SNP rs964184), was associated with MetS in all four study samples (P=7.23×10−9 in meta-analysis). The association was further supported by serum metabolite analysis, where rs964184 associated with various VLDL, TG, and HDL metabolites (P=0.024-1.88×10−5). Twenty-two previously identified susceptibility loci for individual MetS component traits were replicated in our GWA and factor analysis. Most of these associated with lipid phenotypes and none with two or more uncorrelated MetS components. A genetic risk score, calculated as the number of alleles in loci associated with individual MetS traits, was strongly associated with MetS status.
Our findings suggest that genes from lipid metabolism pathways have the key role in the genetic background of MetS. We found little evidence for pleiotropy linking dyslipidemia and obesity to the other MetS component traits such as hypertension and glucose intolerance.
PMCID: PMC3378651  PMID: 22399527
metabolic syndrome; risk factors; genome-wide association study; meta-analysis; lipids
25.  Preconception cardiovascular risk factors and pregnancy outcome 
Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.)  2011;22(5):724-730.
Pregnancy-related cardiovascular conditions are associated with both poorer pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular disease later in life. Little is known about the relationship between preconception cardiovascular risk factor levels and pregnancy complications.
Data from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study were linked with birth registry data for 1142 primiparous women. Age-standardized levels of total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, insulin, and glucose from the study visit prior to last menstrual period were calculated. These factors were examined as predictors of gestational age, preterm birth (<37 weeks), birthweight, low birthweight (<2500 g), small-for-gestational-age (weight <10th percentile for gestational age), hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, and gestational diabetes, using linear and Poisson regression with adjustment for age, body mass index, smoking, and socioeconomic status.
Higher triglycerides were associated with a higher risk of hypertensive disorders (adjusted risk ratio [aRR]= 1.42 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.90–2.23]), pre-eclampsia (1.70 [1.08–2.65]), and gestational diabetes (1.68 [1.25–2.25]). After removing women with pregnancy complications (n=30), the estimated aRR for the association between systolic blood pressure and preterm birth was 1.23 (95% CI= 0.99–1.54); for HDL-c and low birthweight, 0.97 (0.73–1.28); for diastolic blood pressure and small-for-gestational-age, 0.98 (0.81–1.20); and for systolic blood pressure and small-for-gestational-age, 1.18 (0.97–1.45).
High lipid levels before pregnancy predict an increased risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. Reported associations between these pregnancy complications and later cardiovascular disease of the mother are probably explained, at least in part, by maternal conditions that precede pregnancy. Interventions to improve cardiovascular health before pregnancy may reduce risk of pregnancy complications.
PMCID: PMC3157236  PMID: 21709559

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