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2.  Integration of ‘omics’ data in aging research: from biomarkers to systems biology 
Aging Cell  2015;14(6):933-944.
Summary
Age is the strongest risk factor for many diseases including neurodegenerative disorders, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Due to increasing life expectancy and low birth rates, the incidence of age‐related diseases is increasing in industrialized countries. Therefore, understanding the relationship between diseases and aging and facilitating healthy aging are major goals in medical research. In the last decades, the dimension of biological data has drastically increased with high‐throughput technologies now measuring thousands of (epi) genetic, expression and metabolic variables. The most common and so far successful approach to the analysis of these data is the so‐called reductionist approach. It consists of separately testing each variable for association with the phenotype of interest such as age or age‐related disease. However, a large portion of the observed phenotypic variance remains unexplained and a comprehensive understanding of most complex phenotypes is lacking. Systems biology aims to integrate data from different experiments to gain an understanding of the system as a whole rather than focusing on individual factors. It thus allows deeper insights into the mechanisms of complex traits, which are caused by the joint influence of several, interacting changes in the biological system. In this review, we look at the current progress of applying omics technologies to identify biomarkers of aging. We then survey existing systems biology approaches that allow for an integration of different types of data and highlight the need for further developments in this area to improve epidemiologic investigations.
doi:10.1111/acel.12386
PMCID: PMC4693464  PMID: 26331998
data integration; graphical models; high‐throughput data; omics; systems biology
3.  Gender-specific pathway differences in the human serum metabolome 
Metabolomics  2015;11(6):1815-1833.
The susceptibility for various diseases as well as the response to treatments differ considerably between men and women. As a basis for a gender-specific personalized healthcare, an extensive characterization of the molecular differences between the two genders is required. In the present study, we conducted a large-scale metabolomics analysis of 507 metabolic markers measured in serum of 1756 participants from the German KORA F4 study (903 females and 853 males). One-third of the metabolites show significant differences between males and females. A pathway analysis revealed strong differences in steroid metabolism, fatty acids and further lipids, a large fraction of amino acids, oxidative phosphorylation, purine metabolism and gamma-glutamyl dipeptides. We then extended this analysis by a network-based clustering approach. Metabolite interactions were estimated using Gaussian graphical models to get an unbiased, fully data-driven metabolic network representation. This approach is not limited to possibly arbitrary pathway boundaries and can even include poorly or uncharacterized metabolites. The network analysis revealed several strongly gender-regulated submodules across different pathways. Finally, a gender-stratified genome-wide association study was performed to determine whether the observed gender differences are caused by dimorphisms in the effects of genetic polymorphisms on the metabolome. With only a single genome-wide significant hit, our results suggest that this scenario is not the case. In summary, we report an extensive characterization and interpretation of gender-specific differences of the human serum metabolome, providing a broad basis for future analyses.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11306-015-0829-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s11306-015-0829-0
PMCID: PMC4605991  PMID: 26491425
Epidemiology; Metabolic networks; Metabolomics; Gender differences; Systems biology
4.  Genetics of human metabolism: an update 
Human Molecular Genetics  2015;24(R1):R93-R101.
Genome-wide association studies with metabolomics (mGWAS) identify genetically influenced metabotypes (GIMs), their ensemble defining the heritable part of every human's metabolic individuality. Knowledge of genetic variation in metabolism has many applications of biomedical and pharmaceutical interests, including the functional understanding of genetic associations with clinical end points, design of strategies to correct dysregulations in metabolic disorders and the identification of genetic effect modifiers of metabolic disease biomarkers. Furthermore, it has been shown that GIMs provide testable hypotheses for functional genomics and metabolomics and for the identification of novel gene functions and metabolite identities. mGWAS with growing sample sizes and increasingly complex metabolic trait panels are being conducted, allowing for more comprehensive and systems-based downstream analyses. The generated large datasets of genetic associations can now be mined by the biomedical research community and provide valuable resources for hypothesis-driven studies. In this review, we provide a brief summary of the key aspects of mGWAS, followed by an update of recently published mGWAS. We then discuss new approaches of integrating and exploring mGWAS results and finish by presenting selected applications of GIMs in recent studies.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddv263
PMCID: PMC4572003  PMID: 26160913
5.  Metabolomic Identification of a Novel Pathway of Blood Pressure Regulation Involving Hexadecanedioate 
Hypertension  2015;66(2):422-429.
Supplemental Digital Content is available in the text.
High blood pressure is a major contributor to the global burden of disease and discovering novel causal pathways of blood pressure regulation has been challenging. We tested blood pressure associations with 280 fasting blood metabolites in 3980 TwinsUK females. Survival analysis for all-cause mortality was performed on significant independent metabolites (P<8.9×10−5). Replication was conducted in 2 independent cohorts KORA (n=1494) and Hertfordshire (n=1515). Three independent animal experiments were performed to establish causality: (1) blood pressure change after increasing circulating metabolite levels in Wistar–Kyoto rats; (2) circulating metabolite change after salt-induced blood pressure elevation in spontaneously hypertensive stroke-prone rats; and (3) mesenteric artery response to noradrenaline and carbachol in metabolite treated and control rats. Of the15 metabolites that showed an independent significant association with blood pressure, only hexadecanedioate, a dicarboxylic acid, showed concordant association with blood pressure (systolic BP: β [95% confidence interval], 1.31 [0.83–1.78], P=6.81×10−8; diastolic BP: 0.81 [0.5–1.11], P=2.96×10−7) and mortality (hazard ratio [95% confidence interval], 1.49 [1.08–2.05]; P=0.02) in TwinsUK. The blood pressure association was replicated in KORA and Hertfordshire. In the animal experiments, we showed that oral hexadecanedioate increased both circulating hexadecanedioate and blood pressure in Wistar–Kyoto rats, whereas blood pressure elevation with oral sodium chloride in hypertensive rats did not affect hexadecanedioate levels. Vascular reactivity to noradrenaline was significantly increased in mesenteric resistance arteries from hexadecanedioate-treated rats compared with controls, indicated by the shift to the left of the concentration–response curve (P=0.013). Relaxation to carbachol did not show any difference. Our findings indicate that hexadecanedioate is causally associated with blood pressure regulation through a novel pathway that merits further investigation.
doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.115.05544
PMCID: PMC4490909  PMID: 26034203
blood pressure; fatty acid synthases; hypertension; metabolomics; mortality
6.  The Human Blood Metabolome-Transcriptome Interface 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(6):e1005274.
Biological systems consist of multiple organizational levels all densely interacting with each other to ensure function and flexibility of the system. Simultaneous analysis of cross-sectional multi-omics data from large population studies is a powerful tool to comprehensively characterize the underlying molecular mechanisms on a physiological scale. In this study, we systematically analyzed the relationship between fasting serum metabolomics and whole blood transcriptomics data from 712 individuals of the German KORA F4 cohort. Correlation-based analysis identified 1,109 significant associations between 522 transcripts and 114 metabolites summarized in an integrated network, the ‘human blood metabolome-transcriptome interface’ (BMTI). Bidirectional causality analysis using Mendelian randomization did not yield any statistically significant causal associations between transcripts and metabolites. A knowledge-based interpretation and integration with a genome-scale human metabolic reconstruction revealed systematic signatures of signaling, transport and metabolic processes, i.e. metabolic reactions mainly belonging to lipid, energy and amino acid metabolism. Moreover, the construction of a network based on functional categories illustrated the cross-talk between the biological layers at a pathway level. Using a transcription factor binding site enrichment analysis, this pathway cross-talk was further confirmed at a regulatory level. Finally, we demonstrated how the constructed networks can be used to gain novel insights into molecular mechanisms associated to intermediate clinical traits. Overall, our results demonstrate the utility of a multi-omics integrative approach to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying both normal physiology and disease.
Author Summary
Biological systems operate on multiple, intertwined organizational layers that can nowadays be accesses by high-throughput measurement methods, the so-called ‘omics’ technologies. A major aim in the field of systems biology is to understand the flow of biological information between the different layers at a systems level in both health and disease. To unravel the complex mechanisms underlying those molecular processes and to understand how the different functional levels interact with each other, an integrated analysis of multiple layers, i.e. a ‘multi-omics‘ approach is required. In our present study, we investigate the relationship between circulating metabolites in serum and whole-blood gene expression measured in the blood of individuals from a population-based cohort. To this end, we constructed a correlation network that displays which transcript and metabolite show the same trend of up- and down-regulation. We derived a functional characterization of the network by developing a novel computational analysis. The analysis revealed systematic signatures of signaling, transport and metabolic processes on both a regulatory and a pathway level. Moreover, integrating the network with associations to clinical markers such as HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and TG identified coordinately activated pathways or modules which might help to assess the molecular machinery behind such an intermediate phenotype.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005274
PMCID: PMC4473262  PMID: 26086077
7.  A systems view of type 2 diabetes-associated metabolic perturbations in saliva, blood and urine at different timescales of glycaemic control 
Diabetologia  2015;58(8):1855-1867.
Aims/hypothesis
Metabolomics has opened new avenues for studying metabolic alterations in type 2 diabetes. While many urine and blood metabolites have been associated individually with diabetes, a complete systems view analysis of metabolic dysregulations across multiple biofluids and over varying timescales of glycaemic control is still lacking.
Methods
Here we report a broad metabolomics study in a clinical setting, covering 2,178 metabolite measures in saliva, blood plasma and urine from 188 individuals with diabetes and 181 controls of Arab and Asian descent. Using multivariate linear regression we identified metabolites associated with diabetes and markers of acute, short-term and long-term glycaemic control.
Results
Ninety-four metabolite associations with diabetes were identified at a Bonferroni level of significance (p < 2.3 × 10−5), 16 of which have never been reported. Sixty-five of these diabetes-associated metabolites were associated with at least one marker of glycaemic control in the diabetes group. Using Gaussian graphical modelling, we constructed a metabolic network that links diabetes-associated metabolites from three biofluids across three different timescales of glycaemic control.
Conclusions/interpretation
Our study reveals a complex network of biochemical dysregulation involving metabolites from different pathways of diabetes pathology, and provides a reference framework for future diabetes studies with metabolic endpoints.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00125-015-3636-2) contains peer-reviewed but unedited supplementary material, which is available to authorised users.
doi:10.1007/s00125-015-3636-2
PMCID: PMC4499109  PMID: 26049400
Arab population; Asian population; Blood metabolomics; Gaussian graphical modelling; Glycaemic control; Metabolic dysregulation; Partial correlation; Saliva metabolomics; Systems biology; Type 2 diabetes; Urine metabolomics
8.  Pre-Analytical Sample Quality: Metabolite Ratios as an Intrinsic Marker for Prolonged Room Temperature Exposure of Serum Samples 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0121495.
Advances in the “omics” field bring about the need for a high number of good quality samples. Many omics studies take advantage of biobanked samples to meet this need. Most of the laboratory errors occur in the pre-analytical phase. Therefore evidence-based standard operating procedures for the pre-analytical phase as well as markers to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ quality samples taking into account the desired downstream analysis are urgently needed. We studied concentration changes of metabolites in serum samples due to pre-storage handling conditions as well as due to repeated freeze-thaw cycles. We collected fasting serum samples and subjected aliquots to up to four freeze-thaw cycles and to pre-storage handling delays of 12, 24 and 36 hours at room temperature (RT) and on wet and dry ice. For each treated aliquot, we quantified 127 metabolites through a targeted metabolomics approach. We found a clear signature of degradation in samples kept at RT. Storage on wet ice led to less pronounced concentration changes. 24 metabolites showed significant concentration changes at RT. In 22 of these, changes were already visible after only 12 hours of storage delay. Especially pronounced were increases in lysophosphatidylcholines and decreases in phosphatidylcholines. We showed that the ratio between the concentrations of these molecule classes could serve as a measure to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ quality samples in our study. In contrast, we found quite stable metabolite concentrations during up to four freeze-thaw cycles. We concluded that pre-analytical RT handling of serum samples should be strictly avoided and serum samples should always be handled on wet ice or in cooling devices after centrifugation. Moreover, serum samples should be frozen at or below -80°C as soon as possible after centrifugation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121495
PMCID: PMC4379062  PMID: 25823017
9.  Multi-omic signature of body weight change: results from a population-based cohort study 
BMC Medicine  2015;13:48.
Background
Excess body weight is a major risk factor for cardiometabolic diseases. The complex molecular mechanisms of body weight change-induced metabolic perturbations are not fully understood. Specifically, in-depth molecular characterization of long-term body weight change in the general population is lacking. Here, we pursued a multi-omic approach to comprehensively study metabolic consequences of body weight change during a seven-year follow-up in a large prospective study.
Methods
We used data from the population-based Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg (KORA) S4/F4 cohort. At follow-up (F4), two-platform serum metabolomics and whole blood gene expression measurements were obtained for 1,631 and 689 participants, respectively. Using weighted correlation network analysis, omics data were clustered into modules of closely connected molecules, followed by the formation of a partial correlation network from the modules. Association of the omics modules with previous annual percentage weight change was then determined using linear models. In addition, we performed pathway enrichment analyses, stability analyses, and assessed the relation of the omics modules with clinical traits.
Results
Four metabolite and two gene expression modules were significantly and stably associated with body weight change (P-values ranging from 1.9 × 10−4 to 1.2 × 10−24). The four metabolite modules covered major branches of metabolism, with VLDL, LDL and large HDL subclasses, triglycerides, branched-chain amino acids and markers of energy metabolism among the main representative molecules. One gene expression module suggests a role of weight change in red blood cell development. The other gene expression module largely overlaps with the lipid-leukocyte (LL) module previously reported to interact with serum metabolites, for which we identify additional co-expressed genes. The omics modules were interrelated and showed cross-sectional associations with clinical traits. Moreover, weight gain and weight loss showed largely opposing associations with the omics modules.
Conclusions
Long-term weight change in the general population globally associates with serum metabolite concentrations. An integrated metabolomics and transcriptomics approach improved the understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying the association of weight gain with changes in lipid and amino acid metabolism, insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial function as well as blood cell development and function.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0282-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0282-y
PMCID: PMC4367822  PMID: 25857605
Metabolomics; Transcriptomics; Weight change; Obesity; Molecular epidemiology; Bioinformatics
10.  Biomarkers for Type 2 Diabetes and Impaired Fasting Glucose Using a Nontargeted Metabolomics Approach 
Diabetes  2013;62(12):4270-4276.
Using a nontargeted metabolomics approach of 447 fasting plasma metabolites, we searched for novel molecular markers that arise before and after hyperglycemia in a large population-based cohort of 2,204 females (115 type 2 diabetic [T2D] case subjects, 192 individuals with impaired fasting glucose [IFG], and 1,897 control subjects) from TwinsUK. Forty-two metabolites from three major fuel sources (carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins) were found to significantly correlate with T2D after adjusting for multiple testing; of these, 22 were previously reported as associated with T2D or insulin resistance. Fourteen metabolites were found to be associated with IFG. Among the metabolites identified, the branched-chain keto-acid metabolite 3-methyl-2-oxovalerate was the strongest predictive biomarker for IFG after glucose (odds ratio [OR] 1.65 [95% CI 1.39–1.95], P = 8.46 × 10−9) and was moderately heritable (h2 = 0.20). The association was replicated in an independent population (n = 720, OR 1.68 [ 1.34–2.11], P = 6.52 × 10−6) and validated in 189 twins with urine metabolomics taken at the same time as plasma (OR 1.87 [1.27–2.75], P = 1 × 10−3). Results confirm an important role for catabolism of branched-chain amino acids in T2D and IFG. In conclusion, this T2D-IFG biomarker study has surveyed the broadest panel of nontargeted metabolites to date, revealing both novel and known associated metabolites and providing potential novel targets for clinical prediction and a deeper understanding of causal mechanisms.
doi:10.2337/db13-0570
PMCID: PMC3837024  PMID: 23884885
11.  An atlas of genetic influences on human blood metabolites 
Nature genetics  2014;46(6):543-550.
Genome-wide association scans with high-throughput metabolic profiling provide unprecedented insights into how genetic variation influences metabolism and complex disease. Here we report the most comprehensive exploration of genetic loci influencing human metabolism to date, including 7,824 adult individuals from two European population studies. We report genome-wide significant associations at 145 metabolic loci and their biochemical connectivity regarding more than 400 metabolites in human blood. We extensively characterize the resulting in vivo blueprint of metabolism in human blood by integrating it with information regarding gene expression, heritability, overlap with known drug targets, previous association with complex disorders and inborn errors of metabolism. We further developed a database and web-based resources for data mining and results visualization. Our findings contribute to a greater understanding of the role of inherited variation in blood metabolic diversity, and identify potential new opportunities for pharmacologic development and disease understanding.
doi:10.1038/ng.2982
PMCID: PMC4064254  PMID: 24816252
12.  SNiPA: an interactive, genetic variant-centered annotation browser 
Bioinformatics  2014;31(8):1334-1336.
Motivation: Linking genes and functional information to genetic variants identified by association studies remains difficult. Resources containing extensive genomic annotations are available but often not fully utilized due to heterogeneous data formats. To enhance their accessibility, we integrated many annotation datasets into a user-friendly webserver.
Availability and implementation: http://www.snipa.org/
Contact: g.kastenmueller@helmholtz-muenchen.de
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btu779
PMCID: PMC4393511  PMID: 25431330
13.  Metabolomics of Ramadan fasting: an opportunity for the controlled study of physiological responses to food intake 
High-throughput screening techniques that analyze the metabolic endpoints of biological processes can identify the contributions of genetic predisposition and environmental factors to the development of common diseases. Studies applying controlled physiological challenges can reveal dysregulation in metabolic responses that may be predictive for or associated with these diseases. However, large-scale epidemiological studies with well controlled physiological challenge conditions, such as extended fasting periods and defined food intake, pose logistic challenges. Culturally and religiously motivated behavioral patterns of life style changes provide a natural setting that can be used to enroll a large number of study volunteers. Here we report a proof of principle study conducted within a Muslim community, showing that a metabolomics study during the Holy Month of Ramadan can provide a unique opportunity to explore the pre-prandial and postprandial response of human metabolism to nutritional challenges. Up to five blood samples were obtained from eleven healthy male volunteers, taken directly before and two hours after consumption of a controlled meal in the evening on days 7 and 26 of Ramadan, and after an over-night fast several weeks after Ramadan. The observed increases in glucose, insulin and lactate levels at the postprandial time point confirm the expected physiological response to food intake. Targeted metabolomics further revealed significant and physiologically plausible responses to food intake by an increase in bile acid and amino acid levels and a decrease in long-chain acyl-carnitine and polyamine levels. A decrease in the concentrations of a number of phospholipids between samples taken on days 7 and 26 of Ramadan shows that the long-term response to extended fasting may differ from the response to short-term fasting. The present study design is scalable to larger populations and may be extended to the study of the metabolic response in defined patient groups such as individuals with type 2 diabetes.
doi:10.1186/1479-5876-12-161
PMCID: PMC4063233  PMID: 24906381
Metabolomics; Nutritional challenging; Ramadan fasting; Study design; Clinical research
14.  Metabolomics approach reveals effects of antihypertensives and lipid-lowering drugs on the human metabolism 
European Journal of Epidemiology  2014;29(5):325-336.
The mechanism of antihypertensive and lipid-lowering drugs on the human organism is still not fully understood. New insights on the drugs’ action can be provided by a metabolomics-driven approach, which offers a detailed view of the physiological state of an organism. Here, we report a metabolome-wide association study with 295 metabolites in human serum from 1,762 participants of the KORA F4 (Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg) study population. Our intent was to find variations of metabolite concentrations related to the intake of various drug classes and—based on the associations found—to generate new hypotheses about on-target as well as off-target effects of these drugs. In total, we found 41 significant associations for the drug classes investigated: For beta-blockers (11 associations), angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (four assoc.), diuretics (seven assoc.), statins (ten assoc.), and fibrates (nine assoc.) the top hits were pyroglutamine, phenylalanylphenylalanine, pseudouridine, 1-arachidonoylglycerophosphocholine, and 2-hydroxyisobutyrate, respectively. For beta-blockers we observed significant associations with metabolite concentrations that are indicative of drug side-effects, such as increased serotonin and decreased free fatty acid levels. Intake of ACE inhibitors and statins associated with metabolites that provide insight into the action of the drug itself on its target, such as an association of ACE inhibitors with des-Arg(9)-bradykinin and aspartylphenylalanine, a substrate and a product of the drug-inhibited ACE. The intake of statins which reduce blood cholesterol levels, resulted in changes in the concentration of metabolites of the biosynthesis as well as of the degradation of cholesterol. Fibrates showed the strongest association with 2-hydroxyisobutyrate which might be a breakdown product of fenofibrate and, thus, a possible marker for the degradation of this drug in the human organism. The analysis of diuretics showed a heterogeneous picture that is difficult to interpret. Taken together, our results provide a basis for a deeper functional understanding of the action and side-effects of antihypertensive and lipid-lowering drugs in the general population.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10654-014-9910-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s10654-014-9910-7
PMCID: PMC4050296  PMID: 24816436
Beta-blockers; Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors; Diuretics; Statins; Fibrates; Metabolomics
15.  Early Metabolic Markers of the Development of Dysglycemia and Type 2 Diabetes and Their Physiological Significance 
Diabetes  2013;62(5):1730-1737.
Metabolomic screening of fasting plasma from nondiabetic subjects identified α-hydroxybutyrate (α-HB) and linoleoyl-glycerophosphocholine (L-GPC) as joint markers of insulin resistance (IR) and glucose intolerance. To test the predictivity of α-HB and L-GPC for incident dysglycemia, α-HB and L-GPC measurements were obtained in two observational cohorts, comprising 1,261 nondiabetic participants from the Relationship between Insulin Sensitivity and Cardiovascular Disease (RISC) study and 2,580 from the Botnia Prospective Study, with 3-year and 9.5-year follow-up data, respectively. In both cohorts, α-HB was a positive correlate and L-GPC a negative correlate of insulin sensitivity, with α-HB reciprocally related to indices of β-cell function derived from the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). In follow-up, α-HB was a positive predictor (adjusted odds ratios 1.25 [95% CI 1.00–1.60] and 1.26 [1.07–1.48], respectively, for each standard deviation of predictor), and L-GPC was a negative predictor (0.64 [0.48–0.85] and 0.67 [0.54–0.84]) of dysglycemia (RISC) or type 2 diabetes (Botnia), independent of familial diabetes, sex, age, BMI, and fasting glucose. Corresponding areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve were 0.791 (RISC) and 0.783 (Botnia), similar in accuracy when substituting α-HB and L-GPC with 2-h OGTT glucose concentrations. When their activity was examined, α-HB inhibited and L-GPC stimulated glucose-induced insulin release in INS-1e cells. α-HB and L-GPC are independent predictors of worsening glucose tolerance, physiologically consistent with a joint signature of IR and β-cell dysfunction.
doi:10.2337/db12-0707
PMCID: PMC3636608  PMID: 23160532
16.  Long term conservation of human metabolic phenotypes and link to heritability 
Metabolomics  2014;10(5):0.
Changes in an individual’s human metabolic phenotype (metabotype) over time can be indicative of disorder-related modifications. Studies covering several months to a few years have shown that metabolic profiles are often specific for an individual. This “metabolic individuality” and detected changes may contribute to personalized approaches in human health care. However, it is not clear whether such individual metabotypes persist over longer time periods. Here we investigate the conservation of metabotypes characterized by 212 different metabolites of 818 participants from the Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg; Germany population, taken within a 7-year time interval. For replication, we used paired samples from 83 non-related individuals from the TwinsUK study. Results indicated that over 40 % of all study participants could be uniquely identified after 7 years based on their metabolic profiles alone. Moreover, 95 % of the study participants showed a high degree of metabotype conservation (>70 %) whereas the remaining 5 % displayed major changes in their metabolic profiles over time. These latter individuals were likely to have undergone important biochemical changes between the two time points. We further show that metabolite conservation was positively associated with heritability (rank correlation 0.74), although there were some notable exceptions. Our results suggest that monitoring changes in metabotypes over several years can trace changes in health status and may provide indications for disease onset. Moreover, our study findings provide a general reference for metabotype conservation over longer time periods that can be used in biomarker discovery studies.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11306-014-0629-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s11306-014-0629-y
PMCID: PMC4145193  PMID: 25177233
Metabolomics; Longitudinal study; Heritability; Population study
17.  Human metabolic individuality in biomedical and pharmaceutical research 
Nature  2011;477(7362):10.1038/nature10354.
SUMMARY
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified many risk loci for complex diseases, but effect sizes are typically small and information on the underlying biological processes is often lacking. Associations with metabolic traits as functional intermediates can overcome these problems and potentially inform individualized therapy. Here we report a comprehensive analysis of genotype-dependent metabolic phenotypes using a GWAS with non-targeted metabolomics. We identified 37 genetic loci associated with blood metabolite concentrations, of which 25 exhibit effect sizes that are unusually high for GWAS and account for 10-60% of metabolite levels per allele copy. Our associations provide new functional insights for many disease-related associations that have been reported in previous studies, including cardiovascular and kidney disorders, type 2 diabetes, cancer, gout, venous thromboembolism, and Crohn’s disease. Taken together our study advances our knowledge of the genetic basis of metabolic individuality in humans and generates many new hypotheses for biomedical and pharmaceutical research.
doi:10.1038/nature10354
PMCID: PMC3832838  PMID: 21886157
18.  Plasma Metabolomics Reveal Alterations of Sphingo- and Glycerophospholipid Levels in Non-Diabetic Carriers of the Transcription Factor 7-Like 2 Polymorphism rs7903146 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78430.
Aims/Hypothesis
Polymorphisms in the transcription factor 7-like 2 (TCF7L2) gene have been shown to display a powerful association with type 2 diabetes. The aim of the present study was to evaluate metabolic alterations in carriers of a common TCF7L2 risk variant.
Methods
Seventeen non-diabetic subjects carrying the T risk allele at the rs7903146 TCF7L2 locus and 24 subjects carrying no risk allele were submitted to intravenous glucose tolerance test and euglycemic-hyperinsulinemic clamp. Plasma samples were analysed for concentrations of 163 metabolites through targeted mass spectrometry.
Results
TCF7L2 risk allele carriers had a reduced first-phase insulin response and normal insulin sensitivity. Under fasting conditions, carriers of TCF7L2 rs7903146 exhibited a non-significant increase of plasma sphingomyelins (SMs), phosphatidylcholines (PCs) and lysophosphatidylcholines (lysoPCs) species. A significant genotype effect was detected in response to challenge tests in 6 SMs (C16:0, C16:1, C18:0, C18:1, C24:0, C24:1), 5 hydroxy-SMs (C14:1, C16:1, C22:1, C22:2, C24:1), 4 lysoPCs (C14:0, C16:0, C16:1, C17:0), 3 diacyl-PCs (C28:1, C36:6, C40:4) and 4 long-chain acyl-alkyl-PCs (C40:2, C40:5, C44:5, C44:6).
Discussion
Plasma metabolomic profiling identified alterations of phospholipid metabolism in response to challenge tests in subjects with TCF7L2 rs7903146 genotype. This may reflect a genotype-mediated link to early metabolic abnormalities prior to the development of disturbed glucose tolerance.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078430
PMCID: PMC3813438  PMID: 24205231
19.  HoPaCI-DB: host-Pseudomonas and Coxiella interaction database 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(Database issue):D671-D676.
Bacterial infectious diseases are the result of multifactorial processes affected by the interplay between virulence factors and host targets. The host-Pseudomonas and Coxiella interaction database (HoPaCI-DB) is a publicly available manually curated integrative database (http://mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de/HoPaCI/) of host–pathogen interaction data from Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Coxiella burnetii. The resource provides structured information on 3585 experimentally validated interactions between molecules, bioprocesses and cellular structures extracted from the scientific literature. Systematic annotation and interactive graphical representation of disease networks make HoPaCI-DB a versatile knowledge base for biologists and network biology approaches.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt925
PMCID: PMC3965080  PMID: 24137008
20.  A genomewide perspective of genetic variation in human metabolism 
Nature genetics  2009;42(2):137-141.
Serum metabolite concentrations provide a direct readout of biological processes in the human body, and are associated with disorders such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Here we present a genome-wide association study with 163 metabolic traits using 1809 participants from the KORA population, followed up in the TwinsUK cohort with 422 participants. In eight out of nine replicated loci (FADS1, ELOVL2, ACADS, ACADM, ACADL, SPTLC3, ETFDH, SLC16A9) the genetic variant is located in or near enzyme or solute carrier coding genes, where the associating metabolic traits match the proteins’ function. Many of these loci are located in rate limiting steps of important enzymatic reactions. Use of metabolite concentration ratios as proxies for enzymatic reaction rates reduces the variance and yields robust statistical associations with p-values between 3×10−24 and 6.5×10−179. These loci explained 5.6% to 36.3% of the observed variance. For several loci, associations with clinically relevant parameters have previously been reported.
doi:10.1038/ng.507
PMCID: PMC3773904  PMID: 20037589
21.  Epigenetics meets metabolomics: an epigenome-wide association study with blood serum metabolic traits 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;23(2):534-545.
Previously, we reported strong influences of genetic variants on metabolic phenotypes, some of them with clinical relevance. Here, we hypothesize that DNA methylation may have an important and potentially independent effect on human metabolism. To test this hypothesis, we conducted what is to the best of our knowledge the first epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) between DNA methylation and metabolic traits (metabotypes) in human blood. We assess 649 blood metabolic traits from 1814 participants of the Kooperative Gesundheitsforschung in der Region Augsburg (KORA) population study for association with methylation of 457 004 CpG sites, determined on the Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip platform. Using the EWAS approach, we identified two types of methylome–metabotype associations. One type is driven by an underlying genetic effect; the other type is independent of genetic variation and potentially driven by common environmental and life-style-dependent factors. We report eight CpG loci at genome-wide significance that have a genetic variant as confounder (P = 3.9 × 10−20 to 2.0 × 10−108, r2 = 0.036 to 0.221). Seven loci display CpG site-specific associations to metabotypes, but do not exhibit any underlying genetic signals (P = 9.2 × 10−14 to 2.7 × 10−27, r2 = 0.008 to 0.107). We further identify several groups of CpG loci that associate with a same metabotype, such as 4-vinylphenol sulfate and 4-androsten-3-beta,17-beta-diol disulfate. In these cases, the association between CpG-methylation and metabotype is likely the result of a common external environmental factor, including smoking. Our study shows that analysis of EWAS with large numbers of metabolic traits in large population cohorts are, in principle, feasible. Taken together, our data suggest that DNA methylation plays an important role in regulating human metabolism.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddt430
PMCID: PMC3869358  PMID: 24014485
22.  HSC-Explorer: A Curated Database for Hematopoietic Stem Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e70348.
HSC-Explorer (http://mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de/HSC/) is a publicly available, integrative database containing detailed information about the early steps of hematopoiesis. The resource aims at providing fast and easy access to relevant information, in particular to the complex network of interacting cell types and molecules, from the wealth of publications in the field through visualization interfaces. It provides structured information on more than 7000 experimentally validated interactions between molecules, bioprocesses and environmental factors. Information is manually derived by critical reading of the scientific literature from expert annotators. Hematopoiesis-relevant interactions are accompanied with context information such as model organisms and experimental methods for enabling assessment of reliability and relevance of experimental results. Usage of established vocabularies facilitates downstream bioinformatics applications and to convert the results into complex networks. Several predefined datasets (Selected topics) offer insights into stem cell behavior, the stem cell niche and signaling processes supporting hematopoietic stem cell maintenance. HSC-Explorer provides a versatile web-based resource for scientists entering the field of hematopoiesis enabling users to inspect the associated biological processes through interactive graphical presentation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070348
PMCID: PMC3728102  PMID: 23936191
23.  Metabolite profiling reveals new insights into the regulation of serum urate in humans 
Metabolomics  2013;10(1):0.
Serum urate, the final breakdown product of purine metabolism, is causally involved in the pathogenesis of gout, and implicated in cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Serum urate levels highly differ between men and women; however the underlying biological processes in its regulation are still not completely understood and are assumed to result from a complex interplay between genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. In order to describe the metabolic vicinity of serum urate, we analyzed 355 metabolites in 1,764 individuals of the population-based KORA F4 study and constructed a metabolite network around serum urate using Gaussian Graphical Modeling in a hypothesis-free approach. We subsequently investigated the effect of sex and urate lowering medication on all 38 metabolites assigned to the network. Within the resulting network three main clusters could be detected around urate, including the well-known pathway of purine metabolism, as well as several dipeptides, a group of essential amino acids, and a group of steroids. Of the 38 assigned metabolites, 25 showed strong differences between sexes. Association with uricostatic medication intake was not only confined to purine metabolism but seen for seven metabolites within the network. Our findings highlight pathways that are important in the regulation of serum urate and suggest that dipeptides, amino acids, and steroid hormones are playing a role in its regulation. The findings might have an impact on the development of specific targets in the treatment and prevention of hyperuricemia.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11306-013-0565-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s11306-013-0565-2
PMCID: PMC3890072  PMID: 24482632
Gaussian Graphical Modeling; Metabolite network; Pathway reconstruction; Allopurinol; Uric acid; Purine metabolism
24.  Associations between thyroid hormones and serum metabolite profiles in an euthyroid population 
Metabolomics  2013;10(1):0.
The aim was to characterise associations between circulating thyroid hormones—free thyroxine (FT4) and thyrotropin (TSH)—and the metabolite profiles in serum samples from participants of the German population-based KORA F4 study. Analyses were based on the metabolite profile of 1463 euthyroid subjects. In serum samples, obtained after overnight fasting (≥8), 151 different metabolites were quantified in a targeted approach including amino acids, acylcarnitines (ACs), and phosphatidylcholines (PCs). Associations between metabolites and thyroid hormone concentrations were analysed using adjusted linear regression models. To draw conclusions on thyroid hormone related pathways, intra-class metabolite ratios were additionally explored. We discovered 154 significant associations (Bonferroni p < 1.75 × 10−04) between FT4 and various metabolites and metabolite ratios belonging to AC and PC groups. Significant associations with TSH were lacking. High FT4 levels were associated with increased concentrations of many ACs and various sums of ACs of different chain length, and the ratio of C2 by C0. The inverse associations observed between FT4 and many serum PCs reflected the general decrease in PC concentrations. Similar results were found in subgroup analyses, e.g., in weight-stable subjects or in obese subjects. Further, results were independent of different parameters for liver or kidney function, or inflammation, which supports the notion of an independent FT4 effect. In fasting euthyroid adults, higher serum FT4 levels are associated with increased serum AC concentrations and an increased ratio of C2 by C0 which is indicative of an overall enhanced fatty acyl mitochondrial transport and β-oxidation of fatty acids.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11306-013-0563-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s11306-013-0563-4
PMCID: PMC4042025  PMID: 24955082
Targeted metabolomics; Serum metabolites; Free thyroxine; Thyrotropin; Thyroid hormones; Epidemiology
25.  Identification and MS-assisted interpretation of genetically influenced NMR signals in human plasma 
Genome Medicine  2013;5(2):13.
Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) provides robust readouts of many metabolic parameters in one experiment. However, identification of clinically relevant markers in 1H NMR spectra is a major challenge. Association of NMR-derived quantities with genetic variants can uncover biologically relevant metabolic traits. Using NMR data of plasma samples from 1,757 individuals from the KORA study together with 655,658 genetic variants, we show that ratios between NMR intensities at two chemical shift positions can provide informative and robust biomarkers. We report seven loci of genetic association with NMR-derived traits (APOA1, CETP, CPS1, GCKR, FADS1, LIPC, PYROXD2) and characterize these traits biochemically using mass spectrometry. These ratios may now be used in clinical studies.
doi:10.1186/gm417
PMCID: PMC3706909  PMID: 23414815

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