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1.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004127
PMCID: PMC3916240  PMID: 24516404
2.  The Role of Adiposity in Cardiometabolic Traits: A Mendelian Randomization Analysis 
Fall, Tove | Hägg, Sara | Mägi, Reedik | Ploner, Alexander | Fischer, Krista | Horikoshi, Momoko | Sarin, Antti-Pekka | Thorleifsson, Gudmar | Ladenvall, Claes | Kals, Mart | Kuningas, Maris | Draisma, Harmen H. M. | Ried, Janina S. | van Zuydam, Natalie R. | Huikari, Ville | Mangino, Massimo | Sonestedt, Emily | Benyamin, Beben | Nelson, Christopher P. | Rivera, Natalia V. | Kristiansson, Kati | Shen, Huei-yi | Havulinna, Aki S. | Dehghan, Abbas | Donnelly, Louise A. | Kaakinen, Marika | Nuotio, Marja-Liisa | Robertson, Neil | de Bruijn, Renée F. A. G. | Ikram, M. Arfan | Amin, Najaf | Balmforth, Anthony J. | Braund, Peter S. | Doney, Alexander S. F. | Döring, Angela | Elliott, Paul | Esko, Tõnu | Franco, Oscar H. | Gretarsdottir, Solveig | Hartikainen, Anna-Liisa | Heikkilä, Kauko | Herzig, Karl-Heinz | Holm, Hilma | Hottenga, Jouke Jan | Hyppönen, Elina | Illig, Thomas | Isaacs, Aaron | Isomaa, Bo | Karssen, Lennart C. | Kettunen, Johannes | Koenig, Wolfgang | Kuulasmaa, Kari | Laatikainen, Tiina | Laitinen, Jaana | Lindgren, Cecilia | Lyssenko, Valeriya | Läärä, Esa | Rayner, Nigel W. | Männistö, Satu | Pouta, Anneli | Rathmann, Wolfgang | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Ruokonen, Aimo | Savolainen, Markku J. | Sijbrands, Eric J. G. | Small, Kerrin S. | Smit, Jan H. | Steinthorsdottir, Valgerdur | Syvänen, Ann-Christine | Taanila, Anja | Tobin, Martin D. | Uitterlinden, Andre G. | Willems, Sara M. | Willemsen, Gonneke | Witteman, Jacqueline | Perola, Markus | Evans, Alun | Ferrières, Jean | Virtamo, Jarmo | Kee, Frank | Tregouet, David-Alexandre | Arveiler, Dominique | Amouyel, Philippe | Ferrario, Marco M. | Brambilla, Paolo | Hall, Alistair S. | Heath, Andrew C. | Madden, Pamela A. F. | Martin, Nicholas G. | Montgomery, Grant W. | Whitfield, John B. | Jula, Antti | Knekt, Paul | Oostra, Ben | van Duijn, Cornelia M. | Penninx, Brenda W. J. H. | Davey Smith, George | Kaprio, Jaakko | Samani, Nilesh J. | Gieger, Christian | Peters, Annette | Wichmann, H.-Erich | Boomsma, Dorret I. | de Geus, Eco J. C. | Tuomi, TiinaMaija | Power, Chris | Hammond, Christopher J. | Spector, Tim D. | Lind, Lars | Orho-Melander, Marju | Palmer, Colin Neil Alexander | Morris, Andrew D. | Groop, Leif | Järvelin, Marjo-Riitta | Salomaa, Veikko | Vartiainen, Erkki | Hofman, Albert | Ripatti, Samuli | Metspalu, Andres | Thorsteinsdottir, Unnur | Stefansson, Kari | Pedersen, Nancy L. | McCarthy, Mark I. | Ingelsson, Erik | Prokopenko, Inga | Minelli, Cosetta
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001474.
In this study, Prokopenko and colleagues provide novel evidence for causal relationship between adiposity and heart failure and increased liver enzymes using a Mendelian randomization study design.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
The association between adiposity and cardiometabolic traits is well known from epidemiological studies. Whilst the causal relationship is clear for some of these traits, for others it is not. We aimed to determine whether adiposity is causally related to various cardiometabolic traits using the Mendelian randomization approach.
Methods and Findings
We used the adiposity-associated variant rs9939609 at the FTO locus as an instrumental variable (IV) for body mass index (BMI) in a Mendelian randomization design. Thirty-six population-based studies of individuals of European descent contributed to the analyses.
Age- and sex-adjusted regression models were fitted to test for association between (i) rs9939609 and BMI (n = 198,502), (ii) rs9939609 and 24 traits, and (iii) BMI and 24 traits. The causal effect of BMI on the outcome measures was quantified by IV estimators. The estimators were compared to the BMI–trait associations derived from the same individuals. In the IV analysis, we demonstrated novel evidence for a causal relationship between adiposity and incident heart failure (hazard ratio, 1.19 per BMI-unit increase; 95% CI, 1.03–1.39) and replicated earlier reports of a causal association with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dyslipidemia, and hypertension (odds ratio for IV estimator, 1.1–1.4; all p<0.05). For quantitative traits, our results provide novel evidence for a causal effect of adiposity on the liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase and gamma-glutamyl transferase and confirm previous reports of a causal effect of adiposity on systolic and diastolic blood pressure, fasting insulin, 2-h post-load glucose from the oral glucose tolerance test, C-reactive protein, triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (all p<0.05). The estimated causal effects were in agreement with traditional observational measures in all instances except for type 2 diabetes, where the causal estimate was larger than the observational estimate (p = 0.001).
Conclusions
We provide novel evidence for a causal relationship between adiposity and heart failure as well as between adiposity and increased liver enzymes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—disease that affects the heart and/or the blood vessels—is a major cause of illness and death worldwide. In the US, for example, coronary heart disease—a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's blood vessels by fatty deposits slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack—is the leading cause of death, and stroke—a CVD in which the brain's blood supply is interrupted—is the fourth leading cause of death. Globally, both the incidence of CVD (the number of new cases in a population every year) and its prevalence (the proportion of the population with CVD) are increasing, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This increasing burden of CVD is occurring in parallel with a global increase in the incidence and prevalence of obesity—having an unhealthy amount of body fat (adiposity)—and of metabolic diseases—conditions such as diabetes in which metabolism (the processes that the body uses to make energy from food) is disrupted, with resulting high blood sugar and damage to the blood vessels.
Why Was This Study Done?
Epidemiological studies—investigations that record the patterns and causes of disease in populations—have reported an association between adiposity (indicated by an increased body mass index [BMI], which is calculated by dividing body weight in kilograms by height in meters squared) and cardiometabolic traits such as coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure (a condition in which the heart is incapable of pumping sufficient amounts of blood around the body), diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high blood cholesterol (dyslipidemia). However, observational studies cannot prove that adiposity causes any particular cardiometabolic trait because overweight individuals may share other characteristics (confounding factors) that are the real causes of both obesity and the cardiometabolic disease. Moreover, it is possible that having CVD or a metabolic disease causes obesity (reverse causation). For example, individuals with heart failure cannot do much exercise, so heart failure may cause obesity rather than vice versa. Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether adiposity is causally related to various cardiometabolic traits. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. It is known that a genetic variant (rs9939609) within the genome region that encodes the fat-mass- and obesity-associated gene (FTO) is associated with increased BMI. Thus, an investigation of the associations between rs9939609 and cardiometabolic traits can indicate whether obesity is causally related to these traits.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed the association between rs9939609 (the “instrumental variable,” or IV) and BMI, between rs9939609 and 24 cardiometabolic traits, and between BMI and the same traits using genetic and health data collected in 36 population-based studies of nearly 200,000 individuals of European descent. They then quantified the strength of the causal association between BMI and the cardiometabolic traits by calculating “IV estimators.” Higher BMI showed a causal relationship with heart failure, metabolic syndrome (a combination of medical disorders that increases the risk of developing CVD), type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, increased blood levels of liver enzymes (an indicator of liver damage; some metabolic disorders involve liver damage), and several other cardiometabolic traits. All the IV estimators were similar to the BMI–cardiovascular trait associations (observational estimates) derived from the same individuals, with the exception of diabetes, where the causal estimate was higher than the observational estimate, probably because the observational estimate is based on a single BMI measurement, whereas the causal estimate considers lifetime changes in BMI.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Like all Mendelian randomization studies, the reliability of the causal associations reported here depends on several assumptions made by the researchers. Nevertheless, these findings provide support for many previously suspected and biologically plausible causal relationships, such as that between adiposity and hypertension. They also provide new insights into the causal effect of obesity on liver enzyme levels and on heart failure. In the latter case, these findings suggest that a one-unit increase in BMI might increase the incidence of heart failure by 17%. In the US, this corresponds to 113,000 additional cases of heart failure for every unit increase in BMI at the population level. Although additional studies are needed to confirm and extend these findings, these results suggest that global efforts to reduce the burden of obesity will likely also reduce the occurrence of CVD and metabolic disorders.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001474.
The American Heart Association provides information on all aspects of cardiovascular disease and tips on keeping the heart healthy, including weight management (in several languages); its website includes personal stories about stroke and heart attacks
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on heart disease, stroke, and all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about cardiovascular disease and obesity, including a personal story about losing weight
The World Health Organization provides information on obesity (in several languages)
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about the global obesity epidemic
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to other sources of information on heart disease, on vascular disease, on obesity, and on metabolic disorders (in English and Spanish)
The International Association for the Study of Obesity provides maps and information about obesity worldwide
The International Diabetes Federation has a web page that describes types, complications, and risk factors of diabetes
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001474
PMCID: PMC3692470  PMID: 23824655
3.  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.
doi:10.1038/ng.1073
PMCID: PMC3605033  PMID: 22286219
4.  Intracranial Aneurysm Risk Locus 5q23.2 Is Associated with Elevated Systolic Blood Pressure 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002563.
Although genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified hundreds of complex trait loci, the pathomechanisms of most remain elusive. Studying the genetics of risk factors predisposing to disease is an attractive approach to identify targets for functional studies. Intracranial aneurysms (IA) are rupture-prone pouches at cerebral artery branching sites. IA is a complex disease for which GWAS have identified five loci with strong association and a further 14 loci with suggestive association. To decipher potential underlying disease mechanisms, we tested whether there are IA loci that convey their effect through elevating blood pressure (BP), a strong risk factor of IA. We performed a meta-analysis of four population-based Finnish cohorts (nFIN = 11 266) not selected for IA, to assess the association of previously identified IA candidate loci (n = 19) with BP. We defined systolic BP (SBP), diastolic BP, mean arterial pressure, and pulse pressure as quantitative outcome variables. The most significant result was further tested for association in the ICBP-GWAS cohort of 200 000 individuals. We found that the suggestive IA locus at 5q23.2 in PRDM6 was significantly associated with SBP in individuals of European descent (pFIN = 3.01E-05, pICBP-GWAS = 0.0007, pALL = 8.13E-07). The risk allele of IA was associated with higher SBP. PRDM6 encodes a protein predominantly expressed in vascular smooth muscle cells. Our study connects a complex disease (IA) locus with a common risk factor for the disease (SBP). We hypothesize that common variants in PRDM6 can contribute to altered vascular wall structure, hence increasing SBP and predisposing to IA. True positive associations often fail to reach genome-wide significance in GWAS. Our findings show that analysis of traditional risk factors as intermediate phenotypes is an effective tool for deciphering hidden heritability. Further, we demonstrate that common disease loci identified in a population isolate may bear wider significance.
Author Summary
When multiple genes or genetic regions contribute to the inherited risk of a disease, it is referred to as a complex disease. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) aim to detect common genetic variations that associate with complex traits or diseases. Although GWAS have been successful in identifying strongly associated genetic loci, they lack the means to point out true, but less strong, associations. Studying conditions that are related to the disease of interest can help sort out less strong associations. Intracranial aneurysms (IA) are berry-like dilations in cerebral arteries. Most IAs do not give symptoms until they bleed, causing a highly fatal form of stroke. Half of the people who suffer bleeding of an IA die. IA is a complex disease. Both inherited risk and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing IA. Women, smokers, those with high alcohol intake or high blood pressure are more prone to develop IA and bleeding. GWAS found 19 genetic regions increasing the risk of IA. Here we show that one of these loci, on the long arm of chromosome 5, in addition to raising IA risk also increases systolic blood pressure. We speculate that the cause is modified vascular wall structure.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002563
PMCID: PMC3305343  PMID: 22438818
5.  Analysis of Detailed Phenotype Profiles Reveals CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4 Gene Cluster Association With Several Nicotine Dependence Traits 
Nicotine & Tobacco Research  2012;14(6):720-733.
Introduction:
The role of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor gene cluster on chromosome 15q24-25 in the etiology of nicotine dependence (ND) is still being defined. In this study, we included all 15 tagging single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4 cluster and tested associations with 30 smoking-related phenotypes.
Methods:
The study sample was ascertained from the Finnish Twin Cohort study. Twin pairs born 1938–1957 and concordant for a history of cigarette smoking were recruited along with their family members (mainly siblings), as part of the Nicotine Addiction Genetics consortium. The study sample consisted of 1,428 individuals (59% males) from 735 families, with mean age 55.6 years.
Results:
We detected multiple novel associations for ND. DSM-IV ND symptoms associated significantly with the proxy SNP Locus 1 (rs2036527, p = .000009) and Locus 2 (rs578776, p = .0001) and tolerance factor of the Nicotine Dependence Syndrome Scale (NDSS) showed suggestive association to rs11636753 (p = .0059), rs11634351 (p = .0069), and rs1948 (p = .0071) in CHRNB4. Furthermore, we report significant association with DSM-IV ND diagnosis (rs2036527, p = .0003) for the first time in a Caucasian population. Several SNPs indicated suggestive association for traits related to ages at smoking initiation. Also, rs11636753 in CHRNB4 showed suggestive association with regular drinking (p = .0029) and the comorbidity of depression and ND (p = .0034).
Conclusions:
We demonstrate novel associations of DSM-IV ND symptoms and the NDSS tolerance subscale. Our results confirm and extend association findings for other ND measures. We show pleiotropic effects of this gene cluster on multiple measures of ND and also regular drinking and the comorbidity of ND and depression.
doi:10.1093/ntr/ntr283
PMCID: PMC3356294  PMID: 22241830
6.  A Genome-Wide Screen for Interactions Reveals a New Locus on 4p15 Modifying the Effect of Waist-to-Hip Ratio on Total Cholesterol 
Surakka, Ida | Isaacs, Aaron | Karssen, Lennart C. | Laurila, Pirkka-Pekka P. | Middelberg, Rita P. S. | Tikkanen, Emmi | Ried, Janina S. | Lamina, Claudia | Mangino, Massimo | Igl, Wilmar | Hottenga, Jouke-Jan | Lagou, Vasiliki | van der Harst, Pim | Mateo Leach, Irene | Esko, Tõnu | Kutalik, Zoltán | Wainwright, Nicholas W. | Struchalin, Maksim V. | Sarin, Antti-Pekka | Kangas, Antti J. | Viikari, Jorma S. | Perola, Markus | Rantanen, Taina | Petersen, Ann-Kristin | Soininen, Pasi | Johansson, Åsa | Soranzo, Nicole | Heath, Andrew C. | Papamarkou, Theodore | Prokopenko, Inga | Tönjes, Anke | Kronenberg, Florian | Döring, Angela | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Montgomery, Grant W. | Whitfield, John B. | Kähönen, Mika | Lehtimäki, Terho | Freimer, Nelson B. | Willemsen, Gonneke | de Geus, Eco J. C. | Palotie, Aarno | Sandhu, Manj S. | Waterworth, Dawn M. | Metspalu, Andres | Stumvoll, Michael | Uitterlinden, André G. | Jula, Antti | Navis, Gerjan | Wijmenga, Cisca | Wolffenbuttel, Bruce H. R. | Taskinen, Marja-Riitta | Ala-Korpela, Mika | Kaprio, Jaakko | Kyvik, Kirsten O. | Boomsma, Dorret I. | Pedersen, Nancy L. | Gyllensten, Ulf | Wilson, James F. | Rudan, Igor | Campbell, Harry | Pramstaller, Peter P. | Spector, Tim D. | Witteman, Jacqueline C. M. | Eriksson, Johan G. | Salomaa, Veikko | Oostra, Ben A. | Raitakari, Olli T. | Wichmann, H.-Erich | Gieger, Christian | Järvelin, Marjo-Riitta | Martin, Nicholas G. | Hofman, Albert | McCarthy, Mark I. | Peltonen, Leena | van Duijn, Cornelia M. | Aulchenko, Yurii S. | Ripatti, Samuli | Gibson, Greg
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(10):e1002333.
Recent genome-wide association (GWA) studies described 95 loci controlling serum lipid levels. These common variants explain ∼25% of the heritability of the phenotypes. To date, no unbiased screen for gene–environment interactions for circulating lipids has been reported. We screened for variants that modify the relationship between known epidemiological risk factors and circulating lipid levels in a meta-analysis of genome-wide association (GWA) data from 18 population-based cohorts with European ancestry (maximum N = 32,225). We collected 8 further cohorts (N = 17,102) for replication, and rs6448771 on 4p15 demonstrated genome-wide significant interaction with waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR) on total cholesterol (TC) with a combined P-value of 4.79×10−9. There were two potential candidate genes in the region, PCDH7 and CCKAR, with differential expression levels for rs6448771 genotypes in adipose tissue. The effect of WHR on TC was strongest for individuals carrying two copies of G allele, for whom a one standard deviation (sd) difference in WHR corresponds to 0.19 sd difference in TC concentration, while for A allele homozygous the difference was 0.12 sd. Our findings may open up possibilities for targeted intervention strategies for people characterized by specific genomic profiles. However, more refined measures of both body-fat distribution and metabolic measures are needed to understand how their joint dynamics are modified by the newly found locus.
Author Summary
Circulating serum lipids contribute greatly to the global health by affecting the risk for cardiovascular diseases. Serum lipid levels are partly inherited, and already 95 loci affecting high- and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides have been found. Serum lipids are also known to be affected by multiple epidemiological risk factors like body composition, lifestyle, and sex. It has been hypothesized that there are loci modifying the effects between risk factors and serum lipids, but to date only candidate gene studies for interactions have been reported. We conducted a genome-wide screen with meta-analysis approach to identify loci having interactions with epidemiological risk factors on serum lipids with over 30,000 population-based samples. When combining results from our initial datasets and 8 additional replication cohorts (maximum N = 17,102), we found a genome-wide significant locus in chromosome 4p15 with a joint P-value of 4.79×10−9 modifying the effect of waist-to-hip ratio on total cholesterol. In the area surrounding this genetic variant, there were two genes having association between the genotypes and the gene expression in adipose tissue, and we also found enrichment of association in genes belonging to lipid metabolism related functions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002333
PMCID: PMC3197672  PMID: 22028671

Results 1-6 (6)