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1.  A Large-Scale, Consortium-Based Genomewide Association Study of Asthma 
The New England journal of medicine  2010;363(13):1211-1221.
Susceptibility to asthma is influenced by genes and environment; implicated genes may indicate pathways for therapeutic intervention. Genetic risk factors may be useful in identifying subtypes of asthma and determining whether intermediate phenotypes, such as elevation of the total serum IgE level, are causally linked to disease.
We carried out a genomewide association study by genotyping 10,365 persons with physician-diagnosed asthma and 16,110 unaffected persons, all of whom were matched for ancestry. We used random-effects pooled analysis to test for association in the overall study population and in subgroups of subjects with childhood-onset asthma (defined as asthma developing before 16 years of age), later-onset asthma, severe asthma, and occupational asthma.
We observed associations of genomewide significance between asthma and the following single-nucleotide polymorphisms: rs3771166 on chromosome 2, implicating IL1RL1/IL18R1 (P =3×10−9); rs9273349 on chromosome 6, implicating HLA-DQ (P = 7×10−14); rs1342326 on chromosome 9, flanking IL33 (P = 9×10−10); rs744910 on chromosome 15 in SMAD3 (P = 4×10−9); and rs2284033 on chromosome 22 in IL2RB (P = 1.1×10−8). Association with the ORMDL3/GSDMB locus on chromosome 17q21 was specific to childhood-onset disease (rs2305480, P = 6×10−23). Only HLA-DR showed a significant genomewide association with the total serum IgE concentration, and loci strongly associated with IgE levels were not associated with asthma.
Asthma is genetically heterogeneous. A few common alleles are associated with disease risk at all ages. Implicated genes suggest a role for communication of epithelial damage to the adaptive immune system and activation of airway inflammation. Variants at the ORMDL3/GSDMB locus are associated only with childhood-onset disease. Elevation of total serum IgE levels has a minor role in the development of asthma. (Funded by the European Commission and others.)
PMCID: PMC4260321  PMID: 20860503
2.  Grasping nettles: cellular heterogeneity and other confounders in epigenome-wide association studies 
Human Molecular Genetics  2014;23(R1):R83-R88.
Platform technologies for measurement of CpG methylation at multiple loci across the genome have made ambitious epigenome-wide association studies affordable and practicable. In contrast to genetic studies, which estimate the effects of structural changes in DNA, and transcriptomic studies, which measure genomic outputs, epigenetic studies can access states of regulation of genome function in particular cells and in response to specific stimuli. Although many factors complicate the interpretation of epigenetic variation in human disease, cell-specific methylation patterns and the cellular heterogeneity present in peripheral blood and tissue biopsies are anticipated to cause the most problems. In this review, we suggest that the difficulties may be exaggerated and we explore how cellular heterogeneity may be embraced with appropriate study designs and analytical tools. We further suggest that systematic mapping of the loci influenced by age, sex and genetic polymorphisms will bring important biological insights as well as improved control of epigenome-wide association studies.
PMCID: PMC4170720  PMID: 24927738
3.  Outgrowth of the Bacterial Airway Microbiome after Rhinovirus Exacerbation of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
Rationale: Rhinovirus infection is followed by significantly increased frequencies of positive, potentially pathogenic sputum cultures in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, it remains unclear whether these represent de novo infections or an increased load of organisms from the complex microbial communities (microbiome) in the lower airways.
Objectives: To investigate the effect of rhinovirus infection on the airway bacterial microbiome.
Methods: Subjects with COPD (n = 14) and healthy control subjects with normal lung function (n = 17) were infected with rhinovirus. Induced sputum was collected at baseline before rhinovirus inoculation and again on Days 5, 15, and 42 after rhinovirus infection and DNA was extracted. The V3–V5 region of the bacterial 16S ribosomal RNA gene was amplified and pyrosequenced, resulting in 370,849 high-quality reads from 112 of the possible 124 time points.
Measurements and Main Results: At 15 days after rhinovirus infection, there was a sixfold increase in 16S copy number (P = 0.007) and a 16% rise in numbers of proteobacterial sequences, most notably in potentially pathogenic Haemophilus influenzae (P = 2.7 × 10-20), from a preexisting community. These changes occurred only in the sputum microbiome of subjects with COPD and were still evident 42 days after infection. This was in contrast to the temporal stability demonstrated in the microbiome of healthy smokers and nonsmokers.
Conclusions: After rhinovirus infection, there is a rise in bacterial burden and a significant outgrowth of Haemophilus influenzae from the existing microbiota of subjects with COPD. This is not observed in healthy individuals. Our findings suggest that rhinovirus infection in COPD alters the respiratory microbiome and may precipitate secondary bacterial infections.
PMCID: PMC3863728  PMID: 23992479
rhinovirus; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; bacteria; microbiome
4.  Genome-wide association study of body mass index in 23,000 individuals with and without asthma 
Both asthma and obesity are complex disorders that are influenced by environmental and genetic factors. Shared genetic factors between asthma and obesity have been proposed to partly explain epidemiological findings of co-morbidity between these conditions.
To identify genetic variants that are associated with body mass index (BMI) in asthmatic children and adults, and to evaluate if there are differences between the genetics of BMI in asthmatics and healthy individuals.
In total, 19 studies contributed with genome-wide analysis study (GWAS) data from more than 23,000 individuals with predominantly European descent, of whom 8,165 are asthmatics.
We report associations between several DENND1B variants (p=2.2×10−7 for rs4915551) on chromosome 1q31 and BMI from a meta-analysis of GWAS data using 2,691 asthmatic children (screening data). The top DENND1B SNPs were next evaluated in seven independent replication data sets comprising 2,014 asthmatics, and rs4915551 was nominally replicated (p<0.05) in two of the seven studies and of borderline significance in one (p=0.059). However, strong evidence of effect heterogeneity was observed and overall, the association between rs4915551 and BMI was not significant in the total replication data set, p=0.71. Using a random effects model, BMI was overall estimated to increase by 0.30 kg/m2 (p=0.01 for combined screening and replication data sets, N=4,705) per additional G allele of this DENND1B SNP. FTO was confirmed as an important gene for adult and childhood BMI regardless of asthma status.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance
DENND1B was recently identified as an asthma susceptibility gene in a GWAS on children, and here we find evidence that DENND1B variants may also be associated with BMI in asthmatic children. However, the association was overall not replicated in the independent data sets and the heterogeneous effect of DENND1B points to complex associations with the studied diseases that deserve further study.
PMCID: PMC3608930  PMID: 23517042
Association; Asthma; BMI; Genetics; Genome-wide; Obesity
6.  Predicting DNA methylation level across human tissues 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(6):3515-3528.
Differences in methylation across tissues are critical to cell differentiation and are key to understanding the role of epigenetics in complex diseases. In this investigation, we found that locus-specific methylation differences between tissues are highly consistent across individuals. We developed a novel statistical model to predict locus-specific methylation in target tissue based on methylation in surrogate tissue. The method was evaluated in publicly available data and in two studies using the latest IlluminaBeadChips: a childhood asthma study with methylation measured in both peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) and lymphoblastoid cell lines; and a study of postoperative atrial fibrillation with methylation in PBL, atrium and artery. We found that our method can greatly improve accuracy of cross-tissue prediction at CpG sites that are variable in the target tissue [R2 increases from 0.38 (original R2 between tissues) to 0.89 for PBL-to-artery prediction; from 0.39 to 0.95 for PBL-to-atrium; and from 0.81 to 0.98 for lymphoblastoid cell line-to-PBL based on cross-validation, and confirmed using cross-study prediction]. An extended model with multiple CpGs further improved performance. Our results suggest that large-scale epidemiology studies using easy-to-access surrogate tissues (e.g. blood) could be recalibrated to improve understanding of epigenetics in hard-to-access tissues (e.g. atrium) and might enable non-invasive disease screening using epigenetic profiles.
PMCID: PMC3973306  PMID: 24445802
7.  A genome-wide association study of atopic dermatitis identifies loci with overlapping effects on asthma and psoriasis 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;22(23):4841-4856.
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most common dermatological disease of childhood. Many children with AD have asthma and AD shares regions of genetic linkage with psoriasis, another chronic inflammatory skin disease. We present here a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of childhood-onset AD in 1563 European cases with known asthma status and 4054 European controls. Using Illumina genotyping followed by imputation, we generated 268 034 consensus genotypes and in excess of 2 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for analysis. Association signals were assessed for replication in a second panel of 2286 European cases and 3160 European controls. Four loci achieved genome-wide significance for AD and replicated consistently across all cohorts. These included the epidermal differentiation complex (EDC) on chromosome 1, the genomic region proximal to LRRC32 on chromosome 11, the RAD50/IL13 locus on chromosome 5 and the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on chromosome 6; reflecting action of classical HLA alleles. We observed variation in the contribution towards co-morbid asthma for these regions of association. We further explored the genetic relationship between AD, asthma and psoriasis by examining previously identified susceptibility SNPs for these diseases. We found considerable overlap between AD and psoriasis together with variable coincidence between allergic rhinitis (AR) and asthma. Our results indicate that the pathogenesis of AD incorporates immune and epidermal barrier defects with combinations of specific and overlapping effects at individual loci.
PMCID: PMC3820131  PMID: 23886662
8.  Integrating Pathway Analysis and Genetics of Gene Expression for Genome-wide Association Study of Basal Cell Carcinoma 
Human Genetics  2011;131(4):615-623.
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have primarily focused on marginal effects for individual markers and have incorporated external functional information only after identifying robust statistical associations. We applied a new approach combining the genetics of gene expression and functional classification of genes to the GWAS of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) to identify potential biological pathways associated with BCC. We first identified 322,324 expression-associated single-nucleotide polymorphisms (eSNPs) from two existing GWASs of global gene expression in lymphoblastoid cell lines (n=995), and evaluated the association of these functionally annotated SNPs with BCC among 2,045 BCC cases and 6,013 controls in Caucasians. We then grouped them into 99 KEGG pathways for pathway analysis and identified two pathways associated with BCC with p-value < 0.05 and false discovery rate (FDR) < 0.5: the autoimmune thyroid disease pathway (mainly HLA class I and II antigens, p < 0.001, FDR = 0.24) and JAK-STAT signaling pathway (p = 0.02, FDR = 0.49). Seventy nine (25.7%) out of 307 eSNPs in the JAK-STAT pathway were associated with BCC risk (p < 0.05) in an independent replication set of 278 BCC cases and 1,262 controls. In addition, the association of JAK-STAT signaling pathway was marginally validated by using 16,691 eSNPs identified from 110 normal skin samples (p = 0.08). Based on the evidence of biological functions of the JAK-STAT pathway on oncogenesis, it is plausible that this pathway is involved in BCC pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3303995  PMID: 22006220
Pathway analysis; Basal cell carcinoma; GWAS; JAK-STAT
9.  A Genome-Wide Association Study on African-Ancestry Populations For Asthma 
Asthma is a complex disease characterized by striking ethnic disparities not explained entirely by environmental, social, cultural, or economic factors. Of the limited genetic studies performed on populations of African descent, notable differences in susceptibility allele frequencies have been observed.
To test the hypothesis that some genes may contribute to the profound disparities in asthma.
We performed a genome-wide association study in two independent populations of African ancestry (935 African American asthma cases and controls from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area, and 929 African Caribbean asthmatics and their family members from Barbados) to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with asthma.
Meta-analysis combining these two African-ancestry populations yielded three SNPs with a combined P-value <10-5 in genes of potential biological relevance to asthma and allergic disease: rs10515807, mapping to alpha-1B-adrenergic receptor (ADRA1B) gene on chromosome 5q33 (3.57×10-6); rs6052761, mapping to prion-related protein (PRNP) on chromosome 20pter-p12 (2.27×10-6); and rs1435879, mapping to dipeptidyl peptidase 10 (DPP10) on chromosome 2q12.3-q14.2. The generalizability of these findings was tested in family and case-control panels of UK and German origin, respectively, but none of the associations observed in the African groups were replicated in these European studies.
Evidence for association was also examined in four additional case-control studies of African Americans; however, none of the SNPs implicated in the discovery population were replicated. This study illustrates the complexity of identifying true associations for a complex and heterogeneous disease such as asthma in admixed populations, especially populations of African descent.
PMCID: PMC3606015  PMID: 19910028
Asthma; GWAS; ADRA1B; PRNP; DPP10; African ancestry; ethnicity; polymorphism; genetic association
10.  Improved Detection of Bifidobacteria with Optimised 16S rRNA-Gene Based Pyrosequencing 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e32543.
The 16S rRNA gene is conserved across all bacteria and as such is routinely targeted in PCR surveys of bacterial diversity. PCR primer design aims to amplify as many different 16S rRNA gene sequences from as wide a range of organisms as possible, though there are no suitable 100% conserved regions of the gene, leading to bias. In the gastrointestinal tract, bifidobacteria are a key genus, but are often under-represented in 16S rRNA surveys of diversity. We have designed modified, ‘bifidobacteria-optimised’ universal primers, which we have demonstrated detection of bifidobacterial sequence present in DNA mixtures at 2% abundance, the lowest proportion tested. Optimisation did not compromise the detection of other organisms in infant faecal samples. Separate validation using fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) shows that the proportions of bifidobacteria detected in faecal samples were in agreement with those obtained using 16S rRNA based pyrosequencing. For future studies looking at faecal microbiota, careful selection of primers will be key in order to ensure effective detection of bifidobacteria.
PMCID: PMC3314643  PMID: 22470420
11.  Genetics of Complex Airway Disease 
The past 3 years have seen highly significant genetic effects identified for a wide variety of common complex diseases, including the airway disorders of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It appears that only a portion of the genetically mediated susceptibility to complex diseases has been identified, and there is much left to be discovered. This review briefly describes the results of the genome-wide association studies of asthma and gives an overview of the parallel and increasingly large-scale studies that are taking place with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The future impact is discussed of technological advances that allow increasingly large-scale gene expression studies, next-generation sequencing, and genome-wide testing for epigenetic effects. The use of genetic technology to examine the airway microbiota that interact with the mucosa in health and disease is described.
PMCID: PMC3131831  PMID: 21543792
asthma; COPD; genetics; gene expression; epigenetics
13.  Chromosome 17q21 SNP and Severe Asthma 
Journal of human genetics  2010;56(1):97-98.
PMCID: PMC3027598  PMID: 20981039
severe asthma; 17q21; ORMDL3
14.  Meta-analysis of 20 genome-wide linkage studies evidenced new regions linked to asthma and atopy 
Asthma is caused by a heterogeneous combination of environmental and genetic factors. In the context of GA2LEN (Global Allergy and Asthma European Network), we carried out meta-analyses of almost all genome-wide linkage screens conducted to date in 20 independent populations from different ethnic origins (≥3024 families with ≥10 027 subjects) for asthma, atopic asthma, bronchial hyper-responsiveness and five atopy-related traits (total immunoglobulin E level, positive skin test response (SPT) to at least one allergen or to House Dust Mite, quantitative score of SPT (SPTQ) and eosinophils (EOS)). We used the genome scan meta-analysis method to assess evidence for linkage within bins of traditionally 30-cM width, and explored the manner in which these results were affected by bin definition. Meta-analyses were conducted in all studies and repeated in families of European ancestry. Genome-wide evidence for linkage was detected for asthma in two regions (2p21–p14 and 6p21) in European families ascertained through two asthmatic sibs. With regard to atopy phenotypes, four regions reached genome-wide significance: 3p25.3–q24 in all families for SPT and three other regions in European families (2q32–q34 for EOS, 5q23–q33 for SPTQ and 17q12–q24 for SPT). Tests of heterogeneity showed consistent evidence of linkage of SPTQ to 3p11–3q21, whereas between-study heterogeneity was detected for asthma in 2p22–p13 and 6p21, and for atopic asthma in 1q23–q25. This large-scale meta-analysis provides an important resource of information that can be used to prioritize further fine-mapping studies and also be integrated with genome-wide association studies to increase power and better interpret the outcomes of these studies.
PMCID: PMC2987334  PMID: 20068594
asthma; atopy; meta-analysis; linkage scan
15.  Disordered Microbial Communities in Asthmatic Airways 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(1):e8578.
A rich microbial environment in infancy protects against asthma [1], [2] and infections precipitate asthma exacerbations [3]. We compared the airway microbiota at three levels in adult patients with asthma, the related condition of COPD, and controls. We also studied bronchial lavage from asthmatic children and controls.
Principal Findings
We identified 5,054 16S rRNA bacterial sequences from 43 subjects, detecting >70% of species present. The bronchial tree was not sterile, and contained a mean of 2,000 bacterial genomes per cm2 surface sampled. Pathogenic Proteobacteria, particularly Haemophilus spp., were much more frequent in bronchi of adult asthmatics or patients with COPD than controls. We found similar highly significant increases in Proteobacteria in asthmatic children. Conversely, Bacteroidetes, particularly Prevotella spp., were more frequent in controls than adult or child asthmatics or COPD patients.
The results show the bronchial tree to contain a characteristic microbiota, and suggest that this microbiota is disturbed in asthmatic airways.
PMCID: PMC2798952  PMID: 20052417
16.  Dynamic and Physical Clustering of Gene Expression during Epidermal Barrier Formation in Differentiating Keratinocytes 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(10):e7651.
The mammalian epidermis is a continually renewing structure that provides the interface between the organism and an innately hostile environment. The keratinocyte is its principal cell. Keratinocyte proteins form a physical epithelial barrier, protect against microbial damage, and prepare immune responses to danger. Epithelial immunity is disordered in many common diseases and disordered epithelial differentiation underlies many cancers. In order to identify the genes that mediate epithelial development we used a tissue model of the skin derived from primary human keratinocytes. We measured global gene expression in triplicate at five times over the ten days that the keratinocytes took to fully differentiate. We identified 1282 gene transcripts that significantly changed during differentiation (false discovery rate <0.01%). We robustly grouped these transcripts by K-means clustering into modules with distinct temporal expression patterns, shared regulatory motifs, and biological functions. We found a striking cluster of late expressed genes that form the structural and innate immune defences of the epithelial barrier. Gene Ontology analyses showed that undifferentiated keratinocytes were characterised by genes for motility and the adaptive immune response. We systematically identified calcium-binding genes, which may operate with the epidermal calcium gradient to control keratinocyte division during skin repair. The results provide multiple novel insights into keratinocyte biology, in particular providing a comprehensive list of known and previously unrecognised major components of the epidermal barrier. The findings provide a reference for subsequent understanding of how the barrier functions in health and disease.
PMCID: PMC2766255  PMID: 19888454

Results 1-16 (16)