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1.  Deletion of the metabolic transcriptional coactivator PGC1β induces cardiac arrhythmia 
Cardiovascular Research  2011;92(1):29-38.
Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivators PGC1α and PGC1β modulate mitochondrial biogenesis and energy homeostasis. The function of these transcriptional coactivators is impaired in obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. We searched for transcriptomic, lipidomic, and electrophysiological alterations in PGC1β−/− hearts potentially associated with increased arrhythmic risk in metabolic diseases.
Methods and results
Microarray analysis in mouse PGC1β−/− hearts confirmed down-regulation of genes related to oxidative phosphorylation and the electron transport chain and up-regulation of hypertrophy- and hypoxia-related genes. Lipidomic analysis showed increased levels of the pro-arrhythmic and pro-inflammatory lipid, lysophosphatidylcholine. PGC1β−/− mouse electrocardiograms showed irregular heartbeats and an increased incidence of polymorphic ventricular tachycardia following isoprenaline infusion. Langendorff-perfused PGC1β−/− hearts showed action potential alternans, early after-depolarizations, and ventricular tachycardia. PGC1β−/− ventricular myocytes showed oscillatory resting potentials, action potentials with early and delayed after-depolarizations, and burst firing during sustained current injection. They showed abnormal diastolic Ca2+ transients, whose amplitude and frequency were increased by isoprenaline, and Ca2+ currents with negatively shifted inactivation characteristics, with increased window currents despite unaltered levels of CACNA1C RNA transcripts. Inwardly and outward rectifying K+ currents were all increased. Quantitiative RT-PCR demonstrated increased SCN5A, KCNA5, RYR2, and Ca2+-calmodulin dependent protein kinase II expression.
PGC1β−/− hearts showed a lysophospholipid-induced cardiac lipotoxicity and impaired bioenergetics accompanied by an ion channel remodelling and altered Ca2+ homeostasis, converging to produce a ventricular arrhythmic phenotype particularly during adrenergic stress. This could contribute to the increased cardiac mortality associated with both metabolic and cardiac disease attributable to lysophospholipid accumulation.
PMCID: PMC3172981  PMID: 21632884
Mitochondria; Cardiac arrhythmia; Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator 1β; Metabolic disease; Lysophosphatidylcholine
2.  Human metabolic profiles are stably controlled by genetic and environmental variation 
A comprehensive variation map of the human metabolome identifies genetic and stable-environmental sources as major drivers of metabolite concentrations. The data suggest that sample sizes of a few thousand are sufficient to detect metabolite biomarkers predictive of disease.
We designed a longitudinal twin study to characterize the genetic, stable-environmental, and longitudinally fluctuating influences on metabolite concentrations in two human biofluids—urine and plasma—focusing specifically on the representative subset of metabolites detectable by 1H nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR) spectroscopy.We identified widespread genetic and stable-environmental influences on the (urine and plasma) metabolomes, with (30 and 42%) attributable on average to familial sources, and (47 and 60%) attributable to longitudinally stable sources.Ten of the metabolites annotated in the study are estimated to have >60% familial contribution to their variation in concentration.Our findings have implications for the design and interpretation of 1H NMR-based molecular epidemiology studies. On the basis of the stable component of variation quantified in the current paper, we specified a model of disease association under which we inferred that sample sizes of a few thousand should be sufficient to detect disease-predictive metabolite biomarkers.
Metabolites are small molecules involved in biochemical processes in living systems. Their concentration in biofluids, such as urine and plasma, can offer insights into the functional status of biological pathways within an organism, and reflect input from multiple levels of biological organization—genetic, epigenetic, transcriptomic, and proteomic—as well as from environmental and lifestyle factors. Metabolite levels have the potential to indicate a broad variety of deviations from the ‘normal' physiological state, such as those that accompany a disease, or an increased susceptibility to disease. A number of recent studies have demonstrated that metabolite concentrations can be used to diagnose disease states accurately. A more ambitious goal is to identify metabolite biomarkers that are predictive of future disease onset, providing the possibility of intervention in susceptible individuals.
If an extreme concentration of a metabolite is to serve as an indicator of disease status, it is usually important to know the distribution of metabolite levels among healthy individuals. It is also useful to characterize the sources of that observed variation in the healthy population. A proportion of that variation—the heritable component—is attributable to genetic differences between individuals, potentially at many genetic loci. An effective, molecular indicator of a heritable, complex disease is likely to have a substantive heritable component. Non-heritable biological variation in metabolite concentrations can arise from a variety of environmental influences, such as dietary intake, lifestyle choices, general physical condition, composition of gut microflora, and use of medication. Variation across a population in stable-environmental influences leads to long-term differences between individuals in their baseline metabolite levels. Dynamic environmental pressures lead to short-term fluctuations within an individual about their baseline level. A metabolite whose concentration changes substantially in response to short-term pressures is relatively unlikely to offer long-term prediction of disease. In summary, the potential suitability of a metabolite to predict disease is reflected by the relative contributions of heritable and stable/unstable-environmental factors to its variation in concentration across the healthy population.
Studies involving twins are an established technique for quantifying the heritable component of phenotypes in human populations. Monozygotic (MZ) twins share the same DNA genome-wide, while dizygotic (DZ) twins share approximately half their inherited DNA, as do ordinary siblings. By comparing the average extent of phenotypic concordance within MZ pairs to that within DZ pairs, it is possible to quantify the heritability of a trait, and also to quantify the familiality, which refers to the combination of heritable and common-environmental effects (i.e., environmental influences shared by twins in a pair). In addition to incorporating twins into the study design, it is useful to quantify the phenotype in some individuals at multiple time points. The longitudinal aspect of such a study allows environmental effects to be decomposed into those that affect the phenotype over the short term and those that exert stable influence.
For the current study, urine and blood samples were collected from a cohort of MZ and DZ twins, with some twins donating samples on two occasions several months apart. Samples were analysed by 1H nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR) spectroscopy—an untargeted, discovery-driven technique for quantifying metabolite concentrations in biological samples. The application of 1H NMR to a biological sample creates a spectrum, made up of multiple peaks, with each peak's size quantitatively representing the concentration of its corresponding hydrogen-containing metabolite.
In each biological sample in our study, we extracted a full set of peaks, and thereby quantified the concentrations of all common plasma and urine metabolites detectable by 1H NMR. We developed bespoke statistical methods to decompose the observed concentration variation at each metabolite peak into that originating from familial, individual-environmental, and unstable-environmental sources.
We quantified the variability landscape across all common metabolite peaks in the urine and plasma 1H NMR metabolomes. We annotated a subset of peaks with a total of 65 metabolites; the variance decompositions for these are shown in Figure 1. Ten metabolites' concentrations were estimated to have familial contributions in excess of 60%. The average proportion of stable variation across all extracted metabolite peaks was estimated to be 47% in the urine samples and 60% in the plasma samples; the average estimated familiality was 30% for urine and 42% for plasma. These results comprise the first quantitative variation map of the 1H NMR metabolome. The identification and quantification of substantive widespread stability provides support for the use of these biofluids in molecular epidemiology studies. On the basis of our findings, we performed power calculations for a hypothetical study searching for predictive disease biomarkers among 1H NMR-detectable urine and plasma metabolites. Our calculations suggest that sample sizes of 2000–5000 should allow reliable identification of disease-predictive metabolite concentrations explaining 5–10% of disease risk, while greater sample sizes of 5000–20 000 would be required to identify metabolite concentrations explaining 1–2% of disease risk.
1H Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (1H NMR) is increasingly used to measure metabolite concentrations in sets of biological samples for top-down systems biology and molecular epidemiology. For such purposes, knowledge of the sources of human variation in metabolite concentrations is valuable, but currently sparse. We conducted and analysed a study to create such a resource. In our unique design, identical and non-identical twin pairs donated plasma and urine samples longitudinally. We acquired 1H NMR spectra on the samples, and statistically decomposed variation in metabolite concentration into familial (genetic and common-environmental), individual-environmental, and longitudinally unstable components. We estimate that stable variation, comprising familial and individual-environmental factors, accounts on average for 60% (plasma) and 47% (urine) of biological variation in 1H NMR-detectable metabolite concentrations. Clinically predictive metabolic variation is likely nested within this stable component, so our results have implications for the effective design of biomarker-discovery studies. We provide a power-calculation method which reveals that sample sizes of a few thousand should offer sufficient statistical precision to detect 1H NMR-based biomarkers quantifying predisposition to disease.
PMCID: PMC3202796  PMID: 21878913
biomarker; 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy; metabolome-wide association study; top-down systems biology; variance decomposition
3.  A System for Information Management in BioMedical Studies—SIMBioMS 
Bioinformatics  2009;25(20):2768-2769.
Summary: SIMBioMS is a web-based open source software system for managing data and information in biomedical studies. It provides a solution for the collection, storage, management and retrieval of information about research subjects and biomedical samples, as well as experimental data obtained using a range of high-throughput technologies, including gene expression, genotyping, proteomics and metabonomics. The system can easily be customized and has proven to be successful in several large-scale multi-site collaborative projects. It is compatible with emerging functional genomics data standards and provides data import and export in accepted standard formats. Protocols for transferring data to durable archives at the European Bioinformatics Institute have been implemented.
Availability: The source code, documentation and initialization scripts are available at
PMCID: PMC2759553  PMID: 19633095
4.  A Genome-Wide Metabolic QTL Analysis in Europeans Implicates Two Loci Shaped by Recent Positive Selection 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(9):e1002270.
We have performed a metabolite quantitative trait locus (mQTL) study of the 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H NMR) metabolome in humans, building on recent targeted knowledge of genetic drivers of metabolic regulation. Urine and plasma samples were collected from two cohorts of individuals of European descent, with one cohort comprised of female twins donating samples longitudinally. Sample metabolite concentrations were quantified by 1H NMR and tested for association with genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Four metabolites' concentrations exhibited significant, replicable association with SNP variation (8.6×10−11
Author Summary
Physiological concentrations of metabolites—small molecules involved in biochemical processes in living systems—can be measured and used to diagnose and predict disease states. A common goal is to detect and clinically exploit statistical differences in metabolite concentrations between diseased and healthy individuals. As a basis for the design and interpretation of case-control studies, it is useful to have a characterization of metabolic diversity amongst healthy individuals, some of which stems from inter-individual genetic variation. When a single genetic locus has a sufficiently strong effect on metabolism, its genomic position can be determined by collecting metabolite concentration data and genome-wide genotype data on a set of individuals and searching for associations between the two data sets—a so-called metabolite quantitative trait locus (mQTL) study. By so tracing mQTLs, we can identify the genetic drivers of metabolism, characterize how the nature or quantity of the corresponding expressed protein(s) feeds forward to influence metabolite levels, and specify disease-predictive models that incorporate mutual dependence amongst genetics, environment, and metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3169529  PMID: 21931564
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;37(Database issue):D868-D872.
ArrayExpress consists of three components: the ArrayExpress Repository—a public archive of functional genomics experiments and supporting data, the ArrayExpress Warehouse—a database of gene expression profiles and other bio-measurements and the ArrayExpress Atlas—a new summary database and meta-analytical tool of ranked gene expression across multiple experiments and different biological conditions. The Repository contains data from over 6000 experiments comprising approximately 200 000 assays, and the database doubles in size every 15 months. The majority of the data are array based, but other data types are included, most recently—ultra high-throughput sequencing transcriptomics and epigenetic data. The Warehouse and Atlas allow users to query for differentially expressed genes by gene names and properties, experimental conditions and sample properties, or a combination of both. In this update, we describe the ArrayExpress developments over the last two years.
PMCID: PMC2686529  PMID: 19015125
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:52.
One of the crucial aspects of day-to-day laboratory information management is collection, storage and retrieval of information about research subjects and biomedical samples. An efficient link between sample data and experiment results is absolutely imperative for a successful outcome of a biomedical study. Currently available software solutions are largely limited to large-scale, expensive commercial Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS). Acquiring such LIMS indeed can bring laboratory information management to a higher level, but often implies sufficient investment of time, effort and funds, which are not always available. There is a clear need for lightweight open source systems for patient and sample information management.
We present a web-based tool for submission, management and retrieval of sample and research subject data. The system secures confidentiality by separating anonymized sample information from individuals' records. It is simple and generic, and can be customised for various biomedical studies. Information can be both entered and accessed using the same web interface. User groups and their privileges can be defined. The system is open-source and is supplied with an on-line tutorial and necessary documentation. It has proven to be successful in a large international collaborative project.
The presented system closes the gap between the need and the availability of lightweight software solutions for managing information in biomedical studies involving human research subjects.
PMCID: PMC1803798  PMID: 17291344

Results 1-6 (6)