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1.  Alterations in Lipid and Inositol Metabolisms in Two Dopaminergic Disorders 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(1):e0147129.
Serum metabolite profiling can be used to identify pathways involved in the pathogenesis of and potential biomarkers for a given disease. Both restless legs syndrome (RLS) and Parkinson`s disease (PD) represent movement disorders for which currently no blood-based biomarkers are available and whose pathogenesis has not been uncovered conclusively. We performed unbiased serum metabolite profiling in search of signature metabolic changes for both diseases.
456 metabolites were quantified in serum samples of 1272 general population controls belonging to the KORA cohort, 82 PD cases and 95 RLS cases by liquid-phase chromatography and gas chromatography separation coupled with tandem mass spectrometry. Genetically determined metabotypes were calculated using genome-wide genotyping data for the 1272 general population controls.
After stringent quality control, we identified decreased levels of long-chain (polyunsaturated) fatty acids of individuals with PD compared to both RLS (PD vs. RLS: p = 0.0001 to 5.80x10-9) and general population controls (PD vs. KORA: p = 6.09x10-5 to 3.45x10-32). In RLS, inositol metabolites were increased specifically (RLS vs. KORA: p = 1.35x10-6 to 3.96x10-7). The impact of dopaminergic drugs was reflected in changes in the phenylalanine/tyrosine/dopamine metabolism observed in both individuals with RLS and PD.
A first discovery approach using serum metabolite profiling in two dopamine-related movement disorders compared to a large general population sample identified significant alterations in the polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism in PD and implicated the inositol metabolism in RLS. These results provide a starting point for further studies investigating new perspectives on factors involved in the pathogenesis of the two diseases as well as possible points of therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC4726488  PMID: 26808974
3.  Novel genetic associations with serum level metabolites identified by phenotype set enrichment analyses 
Human Molecular Genetics  2014;23(21):5847-5857.
Availability of standardized metabolite panels and genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism data endorse the comprehensive analysis of gene–metabolite association. Currently, many studies use genome-wide association analysis to investigate the genetic effects on single metabolites (mGWAS) separately. Such studies have identified several loci that are associated not only with one but with multiple metabolites, facilitated by the fact that metabolite panels often include metabolites of the same or related pathways. Strategies that analyse several phenotypes in a combined way were shown to be able to detect additional genetic loci. One of those methods is the phenotype set enrichment analysis (PSEA) that tests sets of metabolites for enrichment at genes. Here we applied PSEA on two different panels of serum metabolites together with genome-wide data. All analyses were performed as a two-step identification–validation approach, using data from the population-based KORA cohort and the TwinsUK study. In addition to confirming genes that were already known from mGWAS, we were able to identify and validate 12 new genes. Knowledge about gene function was supported by the enriched metabolite sets. For loci with unknown gene functions, the results suggest a function that is interrelated with the metabolites, and hint at the underlying pathways.
PMCID: PMC4271073  PMID: 24927737
4.  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.
PMCID: PMC4605991  PMID: 26491425
Epidemiology; Metabolic networks; Metabolomics; Gender differences; Systems biology
5.  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.
PMCID: PMC4473262  PMID: 26086077
6.  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
7.  Multi-omic signature of body weight change: results from a population-based cohort study 
BMC Medicine  2015;13:48.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC4367822  PMID: 25857605
Metabolomics; Transcriptomics; Weight change; Obesity; Molecular epidemiology; Bioinformatics
8.  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.
PMCID: PMC4064254  PMID: 24816252
9.  Genome-wide association analyses identify 18 new loci associated with serum urate concentrations 
Köttgen, Anna | Albrecht, Eva | Teumer, Alexander | Vitart, Veronique | Krumsiek, Jan | Hundertmark, Claudia | Pistis, Giorgio | Ruggiero, Daniela | O’Seaghdha, Conall M | Haller, Toomas | Yang, Qiong | Tanaka, Toshiko | Johnson, Andrew D | Kutalik, Zoltán | Smith, Albert V | Shi, Julia | Struchalin, Maksim | Middelberg, Rita P S | Brown, Morris J | Gaffo, Angelo L | Pirastu, Nicola | Li, Guo | Hayward, Caroline | Zemunik, Tatijana | Huffman, Jennifer | Yengo, Loic | Zhao, Jing Hua | Demirkan, Ayse | Feitosa, Mary F | Liu, Xuan | Malerba, Giovanni | Lopez, Lorna M | van der Harst, Pim | Li, Xinzhong | Kleber, Marcus E | Hicks, Andrew A | Nolte, Ilja M | Johansson, Asa | Murgia, Federico | Wild, Sarah H | Bakker, Stephan J L | Peden, John F | Dehghan, Abbas | Steri, Maristella | Tenesa, Albert | Lagou, Vasiliki | Salo, Perttu | Mangino, Massimo | Rose, Lynda M | Lehtimäki, Terho | Woodward, Owen M | Okada, Yukinori | Tin, Adrienne | Müller, Christian | Oldmeadow, Christopher | Putku, Margus | Czamara, Darina | Kraft, Peter | Frogheri, Laura | Thun, Gian Andri | Grotevendt, Anne | Gislason, Gauti Kjartan | Harris, Tamara B | Launer, Lenore J | McArdle, Patrick | Shuldiner, Alan R | Boerwinkle, Eric | Coresh, Josef | Schmidt, Helena | Schallert, Michael | Martin, Nicholas G | Montgomery, Grant W | Kubo, Michiaki | Nakamura, Yusuke | Tanaka, Toshihiro | Munroe, Patricia B | Samani, Nilesh J | Jacobs, David R | Liu, Kiang | D’Adamo, Pio | Ulivi, Sheila | Rotter, Jerome I | Psaty, Bruce M | Vollenweider, Peter | Waeber, Gerard | Campbell, Susan | Devuyst, Olivier | Navarro, Pau | Kolcic, Ivana | Hastie, Nicholas | Balkau, Beverley | Froguel, Philippe | Esko, Tõnu | Salumets, Andres | Khaw, Kay Tee | Langenberg, Claudia | Wareham, Nicholas J | Isaacs, Aaron | Kraja, Aldi | Zhang, Qunyuan | Wild, Philipp S | Scott, Rodney J | Holliday, Elizabeth G | Org, Elin | Viigimaa, Margus | Bandinelli, Stefania | Metter, Jeffrey E | Lupo, Antonio | Trabetti, Elisabetta | Sorice, Rossella | Döring, Angela | Lattka, Eva | Strauch, Konstantin | Theis, Fabian | Waldenberger, Melanie | Wichmann, H-Erich | Davies, Gail | Gow, Alan J | Bruinenberg, Marcel | Study, LifeLines Cohort | Stolk, Ronald P | Kooner, Jaspal S | Zhang, Weihua | Winkelmann, Bernhard R | Boehm, Bernhard O | Lucae, Susanne | Penninx, Brenda W | Smit, Johannes H | Curhan, Gary | Mudgal, Poorva | Plenge, Robert M | Portas, Laura | Persico, Ivana | Kirin, Mirna | Wilson, James F | Leach, Irene Mateo | van Gilst, Wiek H | Goel, Anuj | Ongen, Halit | Hofman, Albert | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Uitterlinden, Andre G | Imboden, Medea | von Eckardstein, Arnold | Cucca, Francesco | Nagaraja, Ramaiah | Piras, Maria Grazia | Nauck, Matthias | Schurmann, Claudia | Budde, Kathrin | Ernst, Florian | Farrington, Susan M | Theodoratou, Evropi | Prokopenko, Inga | Stumvoll, Michael | Jula, Antti | Perola, Markus | Salomaa, Veikko | Shin, So-Youn | Spector, Tim D | Sala, Cinzia | Ridker, Paul M | Kähönen, Mika | Viikari, Jorma | Hengstenberg, Christian | Nelson, Christopher P | Consortium, CARDIoGRAM | Consortium, DIAGRAM | Consortium, ICBP | Consortium, MAGIC | Meschia, James F | Nalls, Michael A | Sharma, Pankaj | Singleton, Andrew B | Kamatani, Naoyuki | Zeller, Tanja | Burnier, Michel | Attia, John | Laan, Maris | Klopp, Norman | Hillege, Hans L | Kloiber, Stefan | Choi, Hyon | Pirastu, Mario | Tore, Silvia | Probst-Hensch, Nicole M | Völzke, Henry | Gudnason, Vilmundur | Parsa, Afshin | Schmidt, Reinhold | Whitfield, John B | Fornage, Myriam | Gasparini, Paolo | Siscovick, David S | Polašek, Ozren | Campbell, Harry | Rudan, Igor | Bouatia-Naji, Nabila | Metspalu, Andres | Loos, Ruth J F | van Duijn, Cornelia M | Borecki, Ingrid B | Ferrucci, Luigi | Gambaro, Giovanni | Deary, Ian J | Wolffenbuttel, Bruce H R | Chambers, John C | März, Winfried | Pramstaller, Peter P | Snieder, Harold | Gyllensten, Ulf | Wright, Alan F | Navis, Gerjan | Watkins, Hugh | Witteman, Jacqueline C M | Sanna, Serena | Schipf, Sabine | Dunlop, Malcolm G | Tönjes, Anke | Ripatti, Samuli | Soranzo, Nicole | Toniolo, Daniela | Chasman, Daniel I | Raitakari, Olli | Kao, W H Linda | Ciullo, Marina | Fox, Caroline S | Caulfield, Mark | Bochud, Murielle | Gieger, Christian
Nature genetics  2012;45(2):145-154.
Elevated serum urate concentrations can cause gout, a prevalent and painful inflammatory arthritis. By combining data from >140,000 individuals of European ancestry within the Global Urate Genetics Consortium (GUGC), we identified and replicated 28 genome-wide significant loci in association with serum urate concentrations (18 new regions in or near TRIM46, INHBB, SFMBT1, TMEM171, VEGFA, BAZ1B, PRKAG2, STC1, HNF4G, A1CF, ATXN2, UBE2Q2, IGF1R, NFAT5, MAF, HLF, ACVR1B-ACVRL1 and B3GNT4). Associations for many of the loci were of similar magnitude in individuals of non-European ancestry. We further characterized these loci for associations with gout, transcript expression and the fractional excretion of urate. Network analyses implicate the inhibins-activins signaling pathways and glucose metabolism in systemic urate control. New candidate genes for serum urate concentration highlight the importance of metabolic control of urate production and excretion, which may have implications for the treatment and prevention of gout.
PMCID: PMC3663712  PMID: 23263486
10.  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.
PMCID: PMC3890072  PMID: 24482632
Gaussian Graphical Modeling; Metabolite network; Pathway reconstruction; Allopurinol; Uric acid; Purine metabolism
11.  Statistical methods for the analysis of high-throughput metabolomics data 
Metabolomics is a relatively new high-throughput technology that aims at measuring all endogenous metabolites within a biological sample in an unbiased fashion. The resulting metabolic profiles may be regarded as functional signatures of the physiological state, and have been shown to comprise effects of genetic regulation as well as environmental factors. This potential to connect genotypic to phenotypic information promises new insights and biomarkers for different research fields, including biomedical and pharmaceutical research. In the statistical analysis of metabolomics data, many techniques from other omics fields can be reused. However recently, a number of tools specific for metabolomics data have been developed as well. The focus of this mini review will be on recent advancements in the analysis of metabolomics data especially by utilizing Gaussian graphical models and independent component analysis.
PMCID: PMC3962125  PMID: 24688690
12.  Mining the Unknown: A Systems Approach to Metabolite Identification Combining Genetic and Metabolic Information 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(10):e1003005.
Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) with metabolomics data linked genetic variation in the human genome to differences in individual metabolite levels. A strong relevance of this metabolic individuality for biomedical and pharmaceutical research has been reported. However, a considerable amount of the molecules currently quantified by modern metabolomics techniques are chemically unidentified. The identification of these “unknown metabolites” is still a demanding and intricate task, limiting their usability as functional markers of metabolic processes. As a consequence, previous GWAS largely ignored unknown metabolites as metabolic traits for the analysis. Here we present a systems-level approach that combines genome-wide association analysis and Gaussian graphical modeling with metabolomics to predict the identity of the unknown metabolites. We apply our method to original data of 517 metabolic traits, of which 225 are unknowns, and genotyping information on 655,658 genetic variants, measured in 1,768 human blood samples. We report previously undescribed genotype–metabotype associations for six distinct gene loci (SLC22A2, COMT, CYP3A5, CYP2C18, GBA3, UGT3A1) and one locus not related to any known gene (rs12413935). Overlaying the inferred genetic associations, metabolic networks, and knowledge-based pathway information, we derive testable hypotheses on the biochemical identities of 106 unknown metabolites. As a proof of principle, we experimentally confirm nine concrete predictions. We demonstrate the benefit of our method for the functional interpretation of previous metabolomics biomarker studies on liver detoxification, hypertension, and insulin resistance. Our approach is generic in nature and can be directly transferred to metabolomics data from different experimental platforms.
Author Summary
Genome-wide association studies on metabolomics data have demonstrated that genetic variation in metabolic enzymes and transporters leads to concentration changes in the respective metabolite levels. The conventional goal of these studies is the detection of novel interactions between the genome and the metabolic system, providing valuable insights for both basic research as well as clinical applications. In this study, we borrow the metabolomics GWAS concept for a novel, entirely different purpose. Metabolite measurements frequently produce signals where a certain substance can be reliably detected in the sample, but it has not yet been elucidated which specific metabolite this signal actually represents. The concept is comparable to a fingerprint: each one is uniquely identifiable, but as long as it is not registered in a database one cannot tell to whom this fingerprint belongs. Obviously, this issue tremendously reduces the usability of a metabolomics analyses. The genetic associations of such an “unknown,” however, give us concrete evidence of the metabolic pathway this substance is most probably involved in. Moreover, we complement the approach with a specific measure of correlation between metabolites, providing further evidence of the metabolic processes of the unknown. For a number of cases, this even allows for a concrete identity prediction, which we then experimentally validate in the lab.
PMCID: PMC3475673  PMID: 23093944
13.  Body Fat Free Mass Is Associated with the Serum Metabolite Profile in a Population-Based Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e40009.
To characterise the influence of the fat free mass on the metabolite profile in serum samples from participants of the population-based KORA (Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg) S4 study.
Subjects and Methods
Analyses were based on metabolite profile from 965 participants of the S4 and 890 weight-stable subjects of its seven-year follow-up study (KORA F4). 190 different serum metabolites were quantified in a targeted approach including amino acids, acylcarnitines, phosphatidylcholines (PCs), sphingomyelins and hexose. Associations between metabolite concentrations and the fat free mass index (FFMI) were analysed using adjusted linear regression models. To draw conclusions on enzymatic reactions, intra-metabolite class ratios were explored. Pairwise relationships among metabolites were investigated and illustrated by means of Gaussian graphical models (GGMs).
We found 339 significant associations between FFMI and various metabolites in KORA S4. Among the most prominent associations (p-values 4.75×10−16–8.95×10−06) with higher FFMI were increasing concentrations of the branched chained amino acids (BCAAs), ratios of BCAAs to glucogenic amino acids, and carnitine concentrations. For various PCs, a decrease in chain length or in saturation of the fatty acid moieties could be observed with increasing FFMI, as well as an overall shift from acyl-alkyl PCs to diacyl PCs. These findings were reproduced in KORA F4. The established GGMs supported the regression results and provided a comprehensive picture of the relationships between metabolites. In a sub-analysis, most of the discovered associations did not exist in obese subjects in contrast to non-obese subjects, possibly indicating derangements in skeletal muscle metabolism.
A set of serum metabolites strongly associated with FFMI was identified and a network explaining the relationships among metabolites was established. These results offer a novel and more complete picture of the FFMI effects on serum metabolites in a data-driven network.
PMCID: PMC3384624  PMID: 22761945
14.  On the hypothesis-free testing of metabolite ratios in genome-wide and metabolome-wide association studies 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13:120.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) with metabolic traits and metabolome-wide association studies (MWAS) with traits of biomedical relevance are powerful tools to identify the contribution of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors to the etiology of complex diseases. Hypothesis-free testing of ratios between all possible metabolite pairs in GWAS and MWAS has proven to be an innovative approach in the discovery of new biologically meaningful associations. The p-gain statistic was introduced as an ad-hoc measure to determine whether a ratio between two metabolite concentrations carries more information than the two corresponding metabolite concentrations alone. So far, only a rule of thumb was applied to determine the significance of the p-gain.
Here we explore the statistical properties of the p-gain through simulation of its density and by sampling of experimental data. We derive critical values of the p-gain for different levels of correlation between metabolite pairs and show that B/(2*α) is a conservative critical value for the p-gain, where α is the level of significance and B the number of tested metabolite pairs.
We show that the p-gain is a well defined measure that can be used to identify statistically significant metabolite ratios in association studies and provide a conservative significance cut-off for the p-gain for use in future association studies with metabolic traits.
PMCID: PMC3537592  PMID: 22672667
p-gain; Metabolomics; MWAS; GWAS; Genome-wide association studies; Metabolome-wide association studies
15.  Discovery of Sexual Dimorphisms in Metabolic and Genetic Biomarkers 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(8):e1002215.
Metabolomic profiling and the integration of whole-genome genetic association data has proven to be a powerful tool to comprehensively explore gene regulatory networks and to investigate the effects of genetic variation at the molecular level. Serum metabolite concentrations allow a direct readout of biological processes, and association of specific metabolomic signatures with complex diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular and metabolic disorders has been shown. There are well-known correlations between sex and the incidence, prevalence, age of onset, symptoms, and severity of a disease, as well as the reaction to drugs. However, most of the studies published so far did not consider the role of sexual dimorphism and did not analyse their data stratified by gender. This study investigated sex-specific differences of serum metabolite concentrations and their underlying genetic determination. For discovery and replication we used more than 3,300 independent individuals from KORA F3 and F4 with metabolite measurements of 131 metabolites, including amino acids, phosphatidylcholines, sphingomyelins, acylcarnitines, and C6-sugars. A linear regression approach revealed significant concentration differences between males and females for 102 out of 131 metabolites (p-values<3.8×10−4; Bonferroni-corrected threshold). Sex-specific genome-wide association studies (GWAS) showed genome-wide significant differences in beta-estimates for SNPs in the CPS1 locus (carbamoyl-phosphate synthase 1, significance level: p<3.8×10−10; Bonferroni-corrected threshold) for glycine. We showed that the metabolite profiles of males and females are significantly different and, furthermore, that specific genetic variants in metabolism-related genes depict sexual dimorphism. Our study provides new important insights into sex-specific differences of cell regulatory processes and underscores that studies should consider sex-specific effects in design and interpretation.
Author Summary
The combination of genomic and metabolic studies during the last years has provided astonishing results. However, most of the studies published so far did not consider the role of sexual dimorphism and did not analyse their data stratified by sex. The investigation of 131 serum metabolite concentrations of >3,300 population-based samples (KORA F3/F4) revealed significant differences in the metabolite profile of males and females. Furthermore, a genome-wide picture of sex-specific genetic variations in human metabolism (>2,000 subjects from KORA F3/F4 cohorts) was investigated. Sex-specific genome-wide association studies (GWAS) showed differences in the effect of genetic variations on metabolites in men and women. SNPs in the CPS1 (carbamoyl-phosphate synthase 1) locus showed genome-wide significant differences in beta-estimates of sex-specific association analysis (significance level: 3.8×10−10) for glycine. As global metabolomic techniques are more and more refined to identify more compounds in single biological samples, the predictive power of this new technology will greatly increase. This suggests that metabolites, which may be used as predictive biomarkers to indicate the presence or severity of a disease, have to be used selectively depending on sex.
PMCID: PMC3154959  PMID: 21852955
16.  Hierarchical Differentiation of Myeloid Progenitors Is Encoded in the Transcription Factor Network 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22649.
Hematopoiesis is an ideal model system for stem cell biology with advanced experimental access. A systems view on the interactions of core transcription factors is important for understanding differentiation mechanisms and dynamics. In this manuscript, we construct a Boolean network to model myeloid differentiation, specifically from common myeloid progenitors to megakaryocytes, erythrocytes, granulocytes and monocytes. By interpreting the hematopoietic literature and translating experimental evidence into Boolean rules, we implement binary dynamics on the resulting 11-factor regulatory network. Our network contains interesting functional modules and a concatenation of mutual antagonistic pairs. The state space of our model is a hierarchical, acyclic graph, typifying the principles of myeloid differentiation. We observe excellent agreement between the steady states of our model and microarray expression profiles of two different studies. Moreover, perturbations of the network topology correctly reproduce reported knockout phenotypes in silico. We predict previously uncharacterized regulatory interactions and alterations of the differentiation process, and line out reprogramming strategies.
PMCID: PMC3154193  PMID: 21853041
17.  Gaussian graphical modeling reconstructs pathway reactions from high-throughput metabolomics data 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:21.
With the advent of high-throughput targeted metabolic profiling techniques, the question of how to interpret and analyze the resulting vast amount of data becomes more and more important. In this work we address the reconstruction of metabolic reactions from cross-sectional metabolomics data, that is without the requirement for time-resolved measurements or specific system perturbations. Previous studies in this area mainly focused on Pearson correlation coefficients, which however are generally incapable of distinguishing between direct and indirect metabolic interactions.
In our new approach we propose the application of a Gaussian graphical model (GGM), an undirected probabilistic graphical model estimating the conditional dependence between variables. GGMs are based on partial correlation coefficients, that is pairwise Pearson correlation coefficients conditioned against the correlation with all other metabolites. We first demonstrate the general validity of the method and its advantages over regular correlation networks with computer-simulated reaction systems. Then we estimate a GGM on data from a large human population cohort, covering 1020 fasting blood serum samples with 151 quantified metabolites. The GGM is much sparser than the correlation network, shows a modular structure with respect to metabolite classes, and is stable to the choice of samples in the data set. On the example of human fatty acid metabolism, we demonstrate for the first time that high partial correlation coefficients generally correspond to known metabolic reactions. This feature is evaluated both manually by investigating specific pairs of high-scoring metabolites, and then systematically on a literature-curated model of fatty acid synthesis and degradation. Our method detects many known reactions along with possibly novel pathway interactions, representing candidates for further experimental examination.
In summary, we demonstrate strong signatures of intracellular pathways in blood serum data, and provide a valuable tool for the unbiased reconstruction of metabolic reactions from large-scale metabolomics data sets.
PMCID: PMC3224437  PMID: 21281499
18.  Odefy -- From discrete to continuous models 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:233.
Phenomenological information about regulatory interactions is frequently available and can be readily converted to Boolean models. Fully quantitative models, on the other hand, provide detailed insights into the precise dynamics of the underlying system. In order to connect discrete and continuous modeling approaches, methods for the conversion of Boolean systems into systems of ordinary differential equations have been developed recently. As biological interaction networks have steadily grown in size and complexity, a fully automated framework for the conversion process is desirable.
We present Odefy, a MATLAB- and Octave-compatible toolbox for the automated transformation of Boolean models into systems of ordinary differential equations. Models can be created from sets of Boolean equations or graph representations of Boolean networks. Alternatively, the user can import Boolean models from the CellNetAnalyzer toolbox, GINSim and the PBN toolbox. The Boolean models are transformed to systems of ordinary differential equations by multivariate polynomial interpolation and optional application of sigmoidal Hill functions. Our toolbox contains basic simulation and visualization functionalities for both, the Boolean as well as the continuous models. For further analyses, models can be exported to SQUAD, GNA, MATLAB script files, the SB toolbox, SBML and R script files. Odefy contains a user-friendly graphical user interface for convenient access to the simulation and exporting functionalities. We illustrate the validity of our transformation approach as well as the usage and benefit of the Odefy toolbox for two biological systems: a mutual inhibitory switch known from stem cell differentiation and a regulatory network giving rise to a specific spatial expression pattern at the mid-hindbrain boundary.
Odefy provides an easy-to-use toolbox for the automatic conversion of Boolean models to systems of ordinary differential equations. It can be efficiently connected to a variety of input and output formats for further analysis and investigations. The toolbox is open-source and can be downloaded at
PMCID: PMC2873544  PMID: 20459647
19.  Intronic microRNAs support their host genes by mediating synergistic and antagonistic regulatory effects 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:224.
MicroRNA-mediated control of gene expression via translational inhibition has substantial impact on cellular regulatory mechanisms. About 37% of mammalian microRNAs appear to be located within introns of protein coding genes, linking their expression to the promoter-driven regulation of the host gene. In our study we investigate this linkage towards a relationship beyond transcriptional co-regulation.
Using measures based on both annotation and experimental data, we show that intronic microRNAs tend to support their host genes by regulation of target gene expression with significantly correlated expression patterns. We used expression data of three differentiating cell types and compared gene expression profiles of host and target genes. Many microRNA target genes show expression patterns significantly correlated with the expressions of the microRNA host genes. By calculating functional similarities between host and predicted microRNA target genes based on GO annotations, we confirm that many microRNAs link host and target gene activity in an either synergistic or antagonistic manner.
These two regulatory effects may result from fine tuning of target gene expression functionally related to the host or knock-down of remaining opponent target gene expression. This finding allows to extend the common practice of mapping large scale gene expression data to protein associated genes with functionality of co-expressed intronic microRNAs.
PMCID: PMC2865499  PMID: 20370903
20.  Transforming Boolean models to continuous models: methodology and application to T-cell receptor signaling 
BMC Systems Biology  2009;3:98.
The understanding of regulatory and signaling networks has long been a core objective in Systems Biology. Knowledge about these networks is mainly of qualitative nature, which allows the construction of Boolean models, where the state of a component is either 'off' or 'on'. While often able to capture the essential behavior of a network, these models can never reproduce detailed time courses of concentration levels.
Nowadays however, experiments yield more and more quantitative data. An obvious question therefore is how qualitative models can be used to explain and predict the outcome of these experiments.
In this contribution we present a canonical way of transforming Boolean into continuous models, where the use of multivariate polynomial interpolation allows transformation of logic operations into a system of ordinary differential equations (ODE). The method is standardized and can readily be applied to large networks. Other, more limited approaches to this task are briefly reviewed and compared. Moreover, we discuss and generalize existing theoretical results on the relation between Boolean and continuous models. As a test case a logical model is transformed into an extensive continuous ODE model describing the activation of T-cells. We discuss how parameters for this model can be determined such that quantitative experimental results are explained and predicted, including time-courses for multiple ligand concentrations and binding affinities of different ligands. This shows that from the continuous model we may obtain biological insights not evident from the discrete one.
The presented approach will facilitate the interaction between modeling and experiments. Moreover, it provides a straightforward way to apply quantitative analysis methods to qualitatively described systems.
PMCID: PMC2764636  PMID: 19785753
21.  SIMAP—structuring the network of protein similarities 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;36(Database issue):D289-D292.
Protein sequences are the most important source of evolutionary and functional information for new proteins. In order to facilitate the computationally intensive tasks of sequence analysis, the Similarity Matrix of Proteins (SIMAP) database aims to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date dataset of the pre-calculated sequence similarity matrix and sequence-based features like InterPro domains for all proteins contained in the major public sequence databases. As of September 2007, SIMAP covers ∼17 million proteins and more than 6 million non-redundant sequences and provides a complete annotation based on InterPro 16. Novel features of SIMAP include a new, portlet-based web portal providing multiple, structured views on retrieved proteins and integration of protein clusters and a unique search method for similar domain architectures. Access to SIMAP is freely provided for academic use through the web portal for individuals at through Web Services for programmatic access at
PMCID: PMC2238827  PMID: 18037617

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