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2.  Frizzled6 deficiency disrupts the differentiation process of nail development 
Nails protect the soft tissue of the tips of digits. The molecular mechanism of nail (and claw) development is largely unknown, but we have recently identified a Wnt receptor gene, Frizzled6 (Fzd6) that is mutated in a human autosomal-recessive nail dysplasia. To investigate the action of Fzd6 in claw development at the molecular level, we compared gene expression profiles of digit tips of wild-type and Fzd6−/− mice, and show that Fzd6 regulates the transcription of a striking number of epidermal differentiation-related genes. Sixty-three genes encoding keratins, keratin associated proteins, and transglutaminases and their substrates were significantly down-regulated in the knockout mice. Among them, four hard keratins, Krt86, Krt81, Krt34 and Krt31; two epithelial keratins, Krt6a and Krt6b; and transglutaminase1 were already known to be involved in nail abnormalities when dysregulated. Immunohistochemical studies revealed decreased expression of Krt86, Krt6b and involucrin in the epidermal portion of the claw field in the knockout embryos. We further showed that Dkk4, a Wnt antagonist, was significantly down-regulated in Fzd6−/− mice along with Wnt, Bmp and Hh family genes; and Dkk4 transgenic mice showed a subtly but appreciably modified claw phenotype. Thus, Fzd6-mediated Wnt signaling likely regulates the overall differentiation process of nail/claw formation.
PMCID: PMC3695035  PMID: 23439395
Nail; claw; Frizzled6; Wnt; cornified envelope
3.  Genetic variants influencing circulating lipid levels and risk of coronary artery disease 
Genetic studies might provide new insights into the biological mechanisms underlying lipid metabolism and risk of CAD. We therefore conducted a genome-wide association study to identify novel genetic determinants of LDL-c, HDL-c and triglycerides.
Methods and results
We combined genome-wide association data from eight studies, comprising up to 17,723 participants with information on circulating lipid concentrations. We did independent replication studies in up to 37,774 participants from eight populations and also in a population of Indian Asian descent. We also assessed the association between SNPs at lipid loci and risk of CAD in up to 9,633 cases and 38,684 controls.
We identified four novel genetic loci that showed reproducible associations with lipids (P values 1.6 × 10−8 to 3.1 × 10−10). These include a potentially functional SNP in the SLC39A8 gene for HDL-c, a SNP near the MYLIP/GMPR and PPP1R3B genes for LDL-c and at the AFF1 gene for triglycerides. SNPs showing strong statistical association with one or more lipid traits at the CELSR2, APOB, APOE-C1-C4-C2 cluster, LPL, ZNF259-APOA5-A4-C3-A1 cluster and TRIB1 loci were also associated with CAD risk (P values 1.1 × 10−3 to 1.2 × 10−9).
We have identified four novel loci associated with circulating lipids. We also show that in addition to those that are largely associated with LDL-c, genetic loci mainly associated with circulating triglycerides and HDL-c are also associated with risk of CAD. These findings potentially provide new insights into the biological mechanisms underlying lipid metabolism and CAD risk.
PMCID: PMC3891568  PMID: 20864672
lipids; lipoproteins; genetics; epidemiology
4.  Identification of Transcription Factors for Lineage-Specific ESC Differentiation 
Stem Cell Reports  2013;1(6):545-559.
A network of transcription factors (TFs) determines cell identity, but identity can be altered by overexpressing a combination of TFs. However, choosing and verifying combinations of TFs for specific cell differentiation have been daunting due to the large number of possible combinations of ∼2,000 TFs. Here, we report the identification of individual TFs for lineage-specific cell differentiation based on the correlation matrix of global gene expression profiles. The overexpression of identified TFs—Myod1, Mef2c, Esx1, Foxa1, Hnf4a, Gata2, Gata3, Myc, Elf5, Irf2, Elf1, Sfpi1, Ets1, Smad7, Nr2f1, Sox11, Dmrt1, Sox9, Foxg1, Sox2, or Ascl1—can direct efficient, specific, and rapid differentiation into myocytes, hepatocytes, blood cells, and neurons. Furthermore, transfection of synthetic mRNAs of TFs generates their appropriate target cells. These results demonstrate both the utility of this approach to identify potent TFs for cell differentiation, and the unanticipated capacity of single TFs directly guides differentiation to specific lineage fates.
•Lineage-determining single TFs are identified based on the correlation matrix•A proof of concept is demonstrated for ESC differentiation by 21 TFs•TFs orchestrate global gene expression changes via direct binding to target genes•Transfections of synthetic TF mRNAs generate desired differentiated cells
Here, Ko and colleagues report that the correlation matrix of global gene expression profiles can identify individual TFs whose overexpression directs efficient, specific, and rapid differentiation into myocytes, hepatocytes, blood cells, and neurons. These results demonstrate that the unanticipated capacity of single TFs directly guides differentiation to specific lineage fates.
PMCID: PMC3871400  PMID: 24371809
5.  Variants within the immunoregulatory CBLB gene are associated with Multiple Sclerosis 
Nature genetics  2010;42(6):495-497.
A genome wide association scan of ~6.6 million genotyped or imputed variants in 882 Sardinian Multiple Sclerosis (MS) cases and 872 controls suggested association of CBLB gene variants with disease, which was confirmed in 1,775 cases and 2,005 controls (overall P =1.60 × 10-10). CBLB encodes a negative regulator of adaptive immune responses and mice lacking the orthologue are prone to experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, the animal model of MS.
PMCID: PMC3786343  PMID: 20453840
Atherosclerosis  2011;221(1):189-197.
In the context of obesity epidemic, no large population study has extensively investigated the relationships between total and abdominal adiposity and large artery structure and function nor have such relationships been examined by gender, by age, by hypertensive status. We investigated these potential relationships in a large cohort of community dwelling volunteers participating the SardiNIA Study.
Methods and Results
Total and visceral adiposity and arterial properties were assessed in 6,148 subjects, aged 14–102 in a cluster of 4 towns in Sardinia, Italy. Arterial stiffness was measured as aortic pulse wave velocity (PWV), arterial thickness and lumen as common carotid artery (CCA) intima-media thickness (IMT) and diameter – respectively. We reported a nonlinear relationship between total and visceral adiposity and arterial stiffness, thickness, and diameter. The association between adiposity and arterial properties was steeper in women than in men, in younger than in older subjects. Waist correlated with arterial properties better than BMI. Within each BMI quartile, increasing waist circumference was associated with further significant changes in arterial structure and function.
The relationship between total or abdominal adiposity and arterial aging (PWV and CCA IMT) is not linear as described in the current study. Therefore, BMI- and/or waist-specific reference values for arterial measurements might need to be defined
PMCID: PMC3713416  PMID: 22222417
arteries; arterial stiffness; carotid intima-media thickness; obesity; waist circumference; population study
7.  Impulsivity-related Traits Are Associated with Higher White Blood Cell Counts 
Journal of behavioral medicine  2011;10.1007/s10865-011-9390-0.
A chronically elevated white blood cell (WBC) count is a risk factor for morbidity and mortality. The present research tests whether facets of impulsivity – impulsiveness, excitement-seeking, self-discipline, and deliberation – are associated with chronically elevated WBC counts. Community-dwelling participants (N=5,652) from Sardinia, Italy, completed a standard personality questionnaire and provided blood samples concurrently and again three years later. Higher scores on impulsivity, in particular impulsiveness and excitement-seeking, were related to higher total WBC counts and higher lymphocyte counts at both time points. Impulsiveness was a predictor of chronic inflammation: For every standard deviation difference in this trait, there was an almost 25% higher risk of elevated WBC counts at both time points (OR=1.23, 95% CI=1.10–1.38). These associations were mediated, in part, by smoking and body mass index. The findings demonstrate that links between psychological processes and immunity are not limited to acute stressors; stable personality dispositions are associated with a chronic inflammatory state.
PMCID: PMC3504167  PMID: 22190235
Personality; Impulsivity; White blood cells; Inflammation; Neuroticism; Conscientiousness
8.  SHAVE: shrinkage estimator measured for multiple visits increases power in GWAS of quantitative traits 
Measurement error and biological variability generate distortions in quantitative phenotypic data. In longitudinal studies with repeated measurements, the multiple measurements provide a route to reduce noise and correspondingly increase the strength of signals in genome-wide association studies (GWAS).To optimize noise correction, we have developed Shrunken Average (SHAVE), an approach using a Bayesian Shrinkage estimator. This estimator uses regression toward the mean for every individual as a function of (1) their average across visits; (2) their number of visits; and (3) the correlation between visits. Computer simulations support an increase in power, with results very similar to those expected by the assumptions of the model. The method was applied to a real data set for 14 anthropomorphic traits in ∼6000 individuals enrolled in the SardiNIA project, with up to three visits (measurements) for each participant. Results show that additional measurements have a large impact on the strength of GWAS signals, especially when participants have different number of visits, with SHAVE showing a clear increase in power relative to single visits. In addition, we have derived a relation to assess the improvement in power as a function of number of visits and correlation between visits. It can also be applied in the optimization of experimental designs or usage of measuring devices. SHAVE is fast and easy to run, written in R and freely available online.
PMCID: PMC3658185  PMID: 23092954
genome-wide association study; bayesian; multiple measurements; biological variability; measurement error; random-intercept
9.  Genetics of serum BDNF: Meta-analysis of the Val66Met and genome-wide association study 
Lower levels of serum Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is one of the best known biomarkers of depression. To identify genetic variants associated with serum BDNF, we tested the Val66Met (rs6265) functional variant and conducted a genome-wide association scan (GWAS).
In a community-based sample (N = 2054; aged 19 to 101, M = 51, SD = 15) from Sardinia, Italy, we measured serum BDNF concentration and conducted a GWAS.
We estimated the heritability of serum BDNF to be 0.48 from sib-pairs. There was no association between serum BDNF and Val66Met in the SardiNIA sample and in a meta-analysis of published studies (k = 13 studies, total n = 4727, p = 0.92). Although no genome-wide significant associations were identified, some evidence of association was found in the BDNF gene (rs11030102, P = .001) and at two loci (rs7170215, P = 4.8×10−5 and rs11073742 P = 1.2×10−5) near and within NTRK3 gene, a neurotrophic tyrosine kinase receptor.
Our study and meta-analysis of the literature indicate that the BDNF Val66Met variant is not associated with serum BDNF, but other variants in the BDNF and NTRK3 genes might regulate the level of serum BDNF.
PMCID: PMC3288597  PMID: 22047184
brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); serum; Val66Met; NTRK3; GWAS
10.  Systematic repression of transcription factors reveals limited patterns of gene expression changes in ES cells 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:1390.
Networks of transcription factors (TFs) are thought to determine and maintain the identity of cells. Here we systematically repressed each of 100 TFs with shRNA and carried out global gene expression profiling in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells. Unexpectedly, only the repression of a handful of TFs significantly affected transcriptomes, which changed in two directions/trajectories: one trajectory by the repression of either Pou5f1 or Sox2; the other trajectory by the repression of either Esrrb, Sall4, Nanog, or Tcfap4. The data suggest that the trajectories of gene expression change are already preconfigured by the gene regulatory network and roughly correspond to extraembryonic and embryonic fates of cell differentiation, respectively. These data also indicate the robustness of the pluripotency gene network, as the transient repression of most TFs did not alter the transcriptomes.
PMCID: PMC3589720  PMID: 23462645
11.  Longevity candidate genes and their association with personality traits in the elderly 
Human longevity and personality traits are both heritable and are consistently linked at the phenotypic level. We test the hypothesis that candidate genes influencing longevity in lower organisms are associated with variance in the five major dimensions of human personality (measured by the NEO-FFI and IPIP inventories) plus related mood states of anxiety and depression. Seventy single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in six brain expressed, longevity candidate genes (AFG3L2, FRAP1, MAT1A, MAT2A, SYNJ1 and SYNJ2) were typed in over one thousand 70-year old participants from the Lothian Birth Cohort of 1936 (LBC1936). No SNPs were associated with the personality and psychological distress traits at a Bonferroni corrected level of significance (p < 0.0002), but there was an over-representation of nominally significant (p < 0.05) SNPs in the synaptojanin-2 (SYNJ2) gene associated with agreeableness and symptoms of depression. Eight SNPs which showed nominally significant association across personality measurement instruments were tested in an extremely large replication sample of 17 106 participants. SNP rs350292, in SYNJ2, was significant: the minor allele was associated with an average decrease in NEO agreeableness scale scores of 0.25 points, and 0.67 points in the restricted analysis of elderly cohorts (most aged > 60 years). Because we selected a specific set of longevity genes based on functional genomics findings, further research on other longevity gene candidates is warranted to discover whether they are relevant candidates for personality and psychological distress traits.
PMCID: PMC3583011  PMID: 22213687
NEO personality; IPIP personality; anxiety; depressive symptoms; ageing; genetics
12.  RXRα and LXR activate two promoters in placenta- and tumor-specific expression of PLAC1 
Placenta  2011;32(11):877-884.
PLAC1 expression, first characterized as restricted to developing placenta among normal tissues, is also found in a wide range of tumors and transformed cell lines. To understand the basis for its unusual expression profile, we have analyzed the gene structure and its mode of transcription. We find that the gene has a hitherto unique feature, with two promoters, P1 and P2, separated by 105 kb. P2 has been described before. Here we define P1 and show that it and P2 are activated by RXRα in conjunction with LXRα or LXRβ. In placenta, P2 is the preferred promoter, whereas various tumor cell lines tend to express predominantly either one or the other promoter. Furthermore, when each promoter is fused to a luciferase reporter gene and transfected into cancer cell lines, the promoter corresponding to the more active endogenous promoter is preferentially transcribed. Joint expression of activating nuclear receptors can partially account for the restricted expression of PLAC1 in placenta, and may be co-opted for preferential P1 or P2 PLAC1 expression in various tumor cells.
PMCID: PMC3210379  PMID: 21937108
13.  Shh is required for Tabby hair follicle development 
Cell Cycle  2011;10(19):3379-3386.
In embryonic Eda mutant (“Tabby”) mice, the development of one of the two major types of hair, “primary” hair fails, but other “secondary” hairs develop in normal numbers, though shorter and slightly aberrant. In Tabby mice, Shh is undetectable in skin early on, but is activated during secondary hair formation. We inferred that Shh may be involved in primary hair formation, activated normally by Eda, and also possibly in secondary hair formation, activated by an Eda-independent pathway. Varying the dosage of Shh now supports these inferences. In Shh knockout mice, mice were totally hairless: primary and secondary hair follicle germs were formed, but further progression failed. Consistent with these findings, when Shh loss was restricted to the skin, secondary hair follicle germs were initiated on time in Tabby mice, but their subsequent development (down-growth) failed. An Shh transgene expressed in Tabby skin could not restore induction of primary hair follicles, but restored normal length to the somewhat aberrant secondary hair that was formed and prolonged the anagen phase of hair cycling. Thus, Shh is required for primary and secondary hair downgrowth and full secondary hair length, but is not itself sufficient to replace Eda or make fully normal secondary hair.
PMCID: PMC3233628  PMID: 21926481
Eda; Shh; Wnt; hair follicle subtypes; Tabby
14.  Neuroticism, depressive symptoms, and serum BDNF 
Psychosomatic medicine  2011;73(8):638-642.
Animal models and clinical studies suggest that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is involved in the pathophysiology of depression. We test whether serum and plasma levels of BDNF are associated with trait Neuroticism and its facets, and with state measure of depressive symptoms.
In a community-based cohort (N = 2099) we measured serum and plasma BDNF concentration, administered the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). Covariates included age, sex, cigarette smoking, obesity, and antidepressant use.
Serum BDNF concentrations were inversely related to Neuroticism (r = −0.074, P < 0.001), in particular the Depression facet (r = −0.08, P < 0.001). Lower BDNF concentrations were also associated with severe depressive symptoms (CES-D ≥ 28; OR = 0.906; 95%CI = 0.851–0.965). The association of serum BDNF with Neuroticism was independent of depressive symptoms, indicating that serum BDNF might represent a biological correlate of Neuroticism and not just of transient depressive states. Plasma BDNF was not associated with measures of depression.
Our study suggests that lower serum BDNF is associated with both a dispositional vulnerability to depression and acute depressive states in the general population.
PMCID: PMC3188695  PMID: 21949427
neuroticism; depression; brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); serum; plasma
15.  Identification of a common variant in the TFR2 gene implicated in the physiological regulation of serum iron levels 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;20(6):1232-1240.
The genetic determinants of variation in iron status are actively sought, but remain incompletely understood. Meta-analysis of two genome-wide association (GWA) studies and replication in three independent cohorts was performed to identify genetic loci associated in the general population with serum levels of iron and markers of iron status, including transferrin, ferritin, soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR) and sTfR–ferritin index. We identified and replicated a novel association of a common variant in the type-2 transferrin receptor (TFR2) gene with iron levels, with effect sizes highly consistent across samples. In addition, we identified and replicated an association between the HFE locus and ferritin and confirmed previously reported associations with the TF, TMPRSS6 and HFE genes. The five replicated variants were tested for association with expression levels of the corresponding genes in a publicly available data set of human liver samples, and nominally statistically significant expression differences by genotype were observed for all genes, although only rs3811647 in the TF gene survived the Bonferroni correction for multiple testing. In addition, we measured for the first time the effects of the common variant in TMPRSS6, rs4820268, on hepcidin mRNA in peripheral blood (n = 83 individuals) and on hepcidin levels in urine (n = 529) and observed an association in the same direction, though only borderline significant. These functional findings require confirmation in further studies with larger sample sizes, but they suggest that common variants in TMPRSS6 could modify the hepcidin-iron feedback loop in clinically unaffected individuals, thus making them more susceptible to imbalances of iron homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3043660  PMID: 21208937
16.  Germ cell formation from embryonic stem cells and the use of somatic cell nuclei in oocytes 
Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have remarkable properties of pluripotency and self-renewal, along with the retention of chromosomal integrity. Germ cells function as a kind of “transgenerational stem cells”, transmitting genetic information from one generation to the next. The formation of putative primordial germ cells (PGCs) and germ cells from mouse and human ESCs has, in fact, been shown, and the apparent derivation of functional mouse male gametes has also been described. Additionally investigators have successfully reprogrammed somatic nuclei into a pluripotent state by inserting them into ESCs or oocytes. This would enable the generation of ESCs genetically identical to the somatic cell donor and their use in cell therapy. However, these methodologies are still inefficient and their mechanisms poorly understood. Until full comprehension of these processes is obtained, clinical applications remain remote. Nevertheless, they represent promising tools in the future, enhancing methods of therapeutic cloning and infertility treatment.
PMCID: PMC3059193  PMID: 21401625
ES cells; germ cells; somatic cell nuclear transfer; therapeutic cloning
17.  Personality Traits Prospectively Predict Verbal Fluency in a Lifespan Sample 
Psychology and aging  2011;26(4):994-999.
In a community-dwelling sample (N=4,790; age range 14–94), we examined whether personality traits prospectively predicted performance on a verbal fluency task. Open, extraverted, and emotionally stable participants had better verbal fluency. At the facet level, dispositionally happy and self-disciplined participants retrieved more words; those prone to anxiety and depression and those who were deliberative retrieved fewer words. Education moderated the association between Conscientiousness and fluency such that participants with lower education performed better on the fluency task if they were also conscientious. Age was not a moderator at the domain level, indicating that the personality-fluency associations were consistent across the lifespan. A disposition towards emotional vulnerability and being less open, less happy, and undisciplined may be detrimental to cognitive performance.
PMCID: PMC3222775  PMID: 21707179
Verbal fluency; Personality; Five-Factor Model; Semantic fluency
18.  A Genome-Wide Association Scan on the Levels of Markers of Inflammation in Sardinians Reveals Associations That Underpin Its Complex Regulation 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(1):e1002480.
Identifying the genes that influence levels of pro-inflammatory molecules can help to elucidate the mechanisms underlying this process. We first conducted a two-stage genome-wide association scan (GWAS) for the key inflammatory biomarkers Interleukin-6 (IL-6), the general measure of inflammation erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) in a large cohort of individuals from the founder population of Sardinia. By analysing 731,213 autosomal or X chromosome SNPs and an additional ∼1.9 million imputed variants in 4,694 individuals, we identified several SNPs associated with the selected quantitative trait loci (QTLs) and replicated all the top signals in an independent sample of 1,392 individuals from the same population. Next, to increase power to detect and resolve associations, we further genotyped the whole cohort (6,145 individuals) for 293,875 variants included on the ImmunoChip and MetaboChip custom arrays. Overall, our combined approach led to the identification of 9 genome-wide significant novel independent signals—5 of which were identified only with the custom arrays—and provided confirmatory evidence for an additional 7. Novel signals include: for IL-6, in the ABO gene (rs657152, p = 2.13×10−29); for ESR, at the HBB (rs4910472, p = 2.31×10−11) and UCN119B/SPPL3 (rs11829037, p = 8.91×10−10) loci; for MCP-1, near its receptor CCR2 (rs17141006, p = 7.53×10−13) and in CADM3 (rs3026968, p = 7.63×10−13); for hsCRP, within the CRP gene (rs3093077, p = 5.73×10−21), near DARC (rs3845624, p = 1.43×10−10), UNC119B/SPPL3 (rs11829037, p = 1.50×10−14), and ICOSLG/AIRE (rs113459440, p = 1.54×10−08) loci. Confirmatory evidence was found for IL-6 in the IL-6R gene (rs4129267); for ESR at CR1 (rs12567990) and TMEM57 (rs10903129); for MCP-1 at DARC (rs12075); and for hsCRP at CRP (rs1205), HNF1A (rs225918), and APOC-I (rs4420638). Our results improve the current knowledge of genetic variants underlying inflammation and provide novel clues for the understanding of the molecular mechanisms regulating this complex process.
Author Summary
Inflammation is a protective response of our organism to harmful stimuli—such as germs, damaged cells, or irritants—and to initiate the healing process. It has also been implicated, with both protective and predisposing effects, in a number of different diseases; but many important details of this complex phenomenon are still unknown. Identifying the genes that influence levels of pro-inflammatory molecules can help to elucidate the factors and mechanisms underlying inflammation and their consequence on health. Genome-wide association scans (GWAS) have proved successful in revealing robust associations in both common diseases and quantitative traits. Here, we thus performed a multistage GWAS in a large cohort of individuals from Sardinia to examine the role of common genetic variants on the key inflammatory biomarkers Interleukin-6, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, monocyte chemotactic protein-1, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. Our work identified new genetic determinants associated with the quantitative levels of these inflammatory biomarkers and confirmed known ones. Overall, the data highlight an intricate regulation of this complex biological phenomenon and reveal proteins and mechanisms that can now be followed up with adequate functional studies.
PMCID: PMC3266885  PMID: 22291609
19.  Personality and metabolic syndrome 
Age  2010;32(4):513-519.
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome has paralleled the sharp increase in obesity. Given its tremendous physical, emotional, and financial burden, it is of critical importance to identify who is most at risk and the potential points of intervention. Psychological traits, in addition to physiological and social risk factors, may contribute to metabolic syndrome. The objective of the present research is to test whether personality traits are associated with metabolic syndrome in a large community sample. Participants (N = 5,662) from Sardinia, Italy, completed a comprehensive personality questionnaire, the NEO-PI-R, and were assessed on all components of metabolic syndrome (waist circumference, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting glucose). Logistic regressions were used to predict metabolic syndrome from personality traits, controlling for age, sex, education, and current smoking status. Among adults over age 45 (n = 2,419), Neuroticism and low Agreeableness were associated with metabolic syndrome, whereas high Conscientiousness was protective. Individuals who scored in the top 10% on Conscientiousness were approximately 40% less likely to have metabolic syndrome (OR = 0.61, 95% CI = 0.41–0.92), whereas those who scored in the lowest 10% on Agreeableness were 50% more likely to have it (OR = 1.53, 95% CI = 1.09–2.16). At the facet level, traits related to impulsivity and hostility were the most strongly associated with metabolic syndrome. The present research indicates that those with fewer psychological resources are more vulnerable to metabolic syndrome and suggests a psychological component to other established risk factors.
PMCID: PMC2980597  PMID: 20567927
Metabolic syndrome; Physical health; Personality; Impulsivity; Hostility
20.  Generation of mouse ES cell lines engineered for the forced induction of transcription factors 
Scientific Reports  2011;1:167.
Here we report the generation and characterization of 84 mouse ES cell lines with doxycycline-controllable transcription factors (TFs) which, together with the previous 53 lines, cover 7–10% of all TFs encoded in the mouse genome. Global gene expression profiles of all 137 lines after the induction of TFs for 48 hrs can associate each TF with the direction of ES cell differentiation, regulatory pathways, and mouse phenotypes. These cell lines and microarray data provide building blocks for a variety of future biomedical research applications as a community resource.
PMCID: PMC3240988  PMID: 22355682
21.  Genome-wide association scan of trait depression 
Biological psychiatry  2010;68(9):811-817.
Independent of temporal circumstances, some individuals have greater susceptibility to depressive affects, such as feelings of guilt, sadness, hopelessness, and loneliness. Identifying the genetic variants that contribute to these individual differences can point to biological pathways etiologically involved in psychiatric disorders.
Genome-wide association scans (GWA or GWAS) for the Depression scale of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) in community-based samples from a genetically homogeneous area of Sardinia, Italy (N = 3,972) and from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging in the US (N = 839).
Meta-analytic results for genotyped or imputed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) indicate that the strongest association signals for trait depression were found in RORA (rs12912233; p= 6 × 10−7), a gene involved in circadian rhythm. A plausible biological association was also found with SNPs within GRM8 (rs17864092; p = 5 × 10−6), a metabotropic receptor for glutamate, a major excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.
These findings suggest shared genetic basis underlying the continuum from personality traits to psychopathology.
PMCID: PMC2955852  PMID: 20800221
GWA or GWAS; depression; neuroticism; RORA; GRM8 or mGlu8
22.  Fine Mapping of Five Loci Associated with Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Detects Variants That Double the Explained Heritability 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(7):e1002198.
Complex trait genome-wide association studies (GWAS) provide an efficient strategy for evaluating large numbers of common variants in large numbers of individuals and for identifying trait-associated variants. Nevertheless, GWAS often leave much of the trait heritability unexplained. We hypothesized that some of this unexplained heritability might be due to common and rare variants that reside in GWAS identified loci but lack appropriate proxies in modern genotyping arrays. To assess this hypothesis, we re-examined 7 genes (APOE, APOC1, APOC2, SORT1, LDLR, APOB, and PCSK9) in 5 loci associated with low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) in multiple GWAS. For each gene, we first catalogued genetic variation by re-sequencing 256 Sardinian individuals with extreme LDL-C values. Next, we genotyped variants identified by us and by the 1000 Genomes Project (totaling 3,277 SNPs) in 5,524 volunteers. We found that in one locus (PCSK9) the GWAS signal could be explained by a previously described low-frequency variant and that in three loci (PCSK9, APOE, and LDLR) there were additional variants independently associated with LDL-C, including a novel and rare LDLR variant that seems specific to Sardinians. Overall, this more detailed assessment of SNP variation in these loci increased estimates of the heritability of LDL-C accounted for by these genes from 3.1% to 6.5%. All association signals and the heritability estimates were successfully confirmed in a sample of ∼10,000 Finnish and Norwegian individuals. Our results thus suggest that focusing on variants accessible via GWAS can lead to clear underestimates of the trait heritability explained by a set of loci. Further, our results suggest that, as prelude to large-scale sequencing efforts, targeted re-sequencing efforts paired with large-scale genotyping will increase estimates of complex trait heritability explained by known loci.
Author Summary
Despite the striking success of genome-wide association studies in identifying genetic loci associated with common complex traits and diseases, much of the heritable risk for these traits and diseases remains unexplained. A higher resolution investigation of the genome through sequencing studies is expected to clarify the sources of this missing heritability. As a preview of what we might learn in these more detailed assessments of genetic variation, we used sequencing to identify potentially interesting variants in seven genes associated with low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) in 256 Sardinian individuals with extreme LDL-C levels, followed by large scale genotyping in 5,524 individuals, to examine newly discovered and previously described variants. We found that a combination of common and rare variants in these loci contributes to variation in LDL-C levels, and also that the initial estimate of the heritability explained by these loci doubled. Importantly, our results include a Sardinian-specific rare variant, highlighting the need for sequencing studies in isolated populations. Our results provide insights about what extensive whole-genome sequencing efforts are likely to reveal for the understanding of the genetic architecture of complex traits.
PMCID: PMC3145627  PMID: 21829380
23.  Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and the Five-Factor Model of Personality 
Biological psychology  2010;84(2):186-191.
Unhealthy lipid levels are among the leading controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease. To identify the psychological factors associated with dyslipidemia, this study investigates the personality correlates of cholesterol (total, LDL, and HDL) and triglycerides. A community-based sample (N=5,532) from Sardinia, Italy, had their cholesterol and triglyceride levels assessed and completed a comprehensive personality questionnaire, the NEO-PI-R. All analyses controlled for age, sex, BMI, smoking, drinking, hypertension, and diabetes. Low Conscientiousness and traits related to impulsivity were associated with lower HDL cholesterol and higher triglycerides. Compared to the lowest 10%, those who scored in top 10% on Impulsivity had a 2.5 times greater risk of exceeding the clinical threshold for elevated triglycerides (OR=2.51, CI=1.56–4.07). In addition, sex moderated the association between trait depression (a component of Neuroticism) and HDL cholesterol, such that trait depression was associated with lower levels of HDL cholesterol in women but not men. When considering the connection between personality and health, unhealthy lipid profiles may be one intermediate biomarker between personality and morbidity and mortality.
PMCID: PMC2933037  PMID: 20109519
Personality; Depression; Impulsivity; Cholesterol; Triglycerides
24.  BDNF Val66Met is Associated with Introversion and Interacts with 5-HTTLPR to Influence Neuroticism 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2009;35(5):1083-1089.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) regulates synaptic plasticity and neurotransmission, and has been linked to neuroticism, a major risk factor for psychiatric disorders. A recent genome-wide association (GWA) scan, however, found the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism (rs6265) associated with extraversion but not with neuroticism. In this study, we examine the links between BDNF and personality traits, assessed using the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), in a sample from SardiNIA (n=1560) and the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA; n=1131). Consistent with GWA results, we found that BDNF Met carriers were more introverted. By contrast, in both samples and in a meta-analysis inclusive of published data (n=15251), we found no evidence for a main effect of BDNF Val66Met on neuroticism. Finally, on the basis of recent reports of an epistatic effect between BDNF and the serotonin transporter, we explored a Val66Met × 5-HTTLPR interaction in a larger SardiNIA sample (n=2333). We found that 5-HTTLPR LL carriers scored lower on neuroticism in the presence of the BDNF Val variant, but scored higher on neuroticism in the presence of the BDNF Met variant. Our findings support the association between the BDNF Met variant and introversion and suggest that BDNF interacts with the serotonin transporter gene to influence neuroticism.
PMCID: PMC2840212  PMID: 20042999
personality; depression; BDNF Val66Met; serotonin transporter; GWA; gene–gene interaction.; Neurogenetics; Biological Psychiatry; Depression; Unipolar/Bipolar; Serotonin; personality; BDNF Val66Met; GWA or GWAS; meta-analysis; gene-gene interaction; neuroticism
25.  Sex-Specific Correlates of Walking Speed in a Wide Age-Ranged Population 
The goals of this cross-sectional study were to explore correlates of walking speed in a large wide age-ranged population and to identify factors affecting lower walking speed at older ages. Participants were 3,872 community-dwelling adults in the first follow-up of the SardiNIA study who completed a 4-m walking test. Sex-specific correlates of walking speed included marital status, height, waist circumference, pulse wave velocity, comorbidity, subjective health, strength, and personality. Effect modifiers of the age–walking speed association included extraversion (<55 years, p = .019) and education (<55 years, p = .021; ≥55 years, p = .012) in women, and openness (<55 years, p = .005), waist circumference (<55 years, p = .010), and subjective health (<55 years, p = .014) in men. The strong impact of personality suggests that certain personality traits may be associated with behaviors that affect physical performance and condition the reduced mobility mostly at younger ages. If these patterns are confirmed in longitudinal studies, personality may be an important target for prevention.
PMCID: PMC2821942  PMID: 20051464
Cross-sectional design; Personality; Walking speed

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