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1.  Sequencing and comparative analysis of the gorilla MHC genomic sequence 
Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes play a critical role in vertebrate immune response and because the MHC is linked to a significant number of auto-immune and other diseases it is of great medical interest. Here we describe the clone-based sequencing and subsequent annotation of the MHC region of the gorilla genome. Because the MHC is subject to extensive variation, both structural and sequence-wise, it is not readily amenable to study in whole genome shotgun sequence such as the recently published gorilla genome. The variation of the MHC also makes it of evolutionary interest and therefore we analyse the sequence in the context of human and chimpanzee. In our comparisons with human and re-annotated chimpanzee MHC sequence we find that gorilla has a trimodular RCCX cluster, versus the reference human bimodular cluster, and additional copies of Class I (pseudo)genes between Gogo-K and Gogo-A (the orthologues of HLA-K and -A). We also find that Gogo-H (and Patr-H) is coding versus the HLA-H pseudogene and, conversely, there is a Gogo-DQB2 pseudogene versus the HLA-DQB2 coding gene. Our analysis, which is freely available through the VEGA genome browser, provides the research community with a comprehensive dataset for comparative and evolutionary research of the MHC.
doi:10.1093/database/bat011
PMCID: PMC3626023  PMID: 23589541
2.  DNA methylation profiling of human chromosomes 6, 20 and 22 
Nature genetics  2006;38(12):1378-1385.
DNA methylation constitutes the most stable type of epigenetic modifications modulating the transcriptional plasticity of mammalian genomes. Using bisulfite DNA sequencing, we report high-resolution methylation reference profiles of human chromosomes 6, 20 and 22, providing a resource of about 1.9 million CpG methylation values derived from 12 different tissues. Analysis of 6 annotation categories, revealed evolutionary conserved regions to be the predominant sites for differential DNA methylation and a core region surrounding the transcriptional start site as informative surrogate for promoter methylation. We find 17% of the 873 analyzed genes differentially methylated in their 5′-untranslated regions (5′-UTR) and about one third of the differentially methylated 5′-UTRs to be inversely correlated with transcription. While our study was controlled for factors reported to affect DNA methylation such as sex and age, we did not find any significant attributable effects. Our data suggest DNA methylation to be ontogenetically more stable than previously thought.
doi:10.1038/ng1909
PMCID: PMC3082778  PMID: 17072317
3.  Association of Smoking Behavior with an Odorant Receptor Allele Telomeric to the Human Major Histocompatibility Complex 
Genetic testing  2008;12(4):481-486.
Smoking behavior has been associated in two independent European cohorts with the most common Caucasian human leukocyte antigen (HLA) haplotype (A1-B8-DR3). We aimed to test whether polymorphic members of the two odorant receptor (OR) clusters within the extended HLA complex might be responsible for the observed association, by genotyping a cohort of Hungarian women in which the mentioned association had been found. One hundred and eighty HLA haplotypes from Centre d’Etude du Polymorphisme Humain families were analyzed in silico to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within OR genes that are in linkage disequilibrium with the A1-B8-DR3 haplotype, as well as with two other haplotypes indirectly linked to smoking behavior. A nonsynonymous SNP within the OR12D3 gene (rs3749971T) was found to be linked to the A1-B8-DR3 haplotype. This polymorphism leads to a 97Thr → Ile exchange that affects a putative ligand binding region of the OR12D3 protein. Smoking was found to be associated in the Hungarian cohort with the rs3749971T allele (p = 1.05×10−2), with higher significance than with A1-B8-DR3 (p = 2.38×10−2). Our results link smoking to a distinct OR allele, and demonstrate that the rs3749971T polymorphism is associated with the HLA haplotype-dependent differential recognition of cigarette smoke components, at least among Caucasian women.
doi:10.1089/gte.2008.0029
PMCID: PMC2635552  PMID: 18939942
4.  Variation analysis and gene annotation of eight MHC haplotypes: The MHC Haplotype Project 
Immunogenetics  2008;60(1):1-18.
The human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is contained within about 4 Mb on the short arm of chromosome 6 and is recognised as the most variable region in the human genome. The primary aim of the MHC Haplotype Project was to provide a comprehensively annotated reference sequence of a single, human leukocyte antigen-homozygous MHC haplotype and to use it as a basis against which variations could be assessed from seven other similarly homozygous cell lines, representative of the most common MHC haplotypes in the European population. Comparison of the haplotype sequences, including four haplotypes not previously analysed, resulted in the identification of >44,000 variations, both substitutions and indels (insertions and deletions), which have been submitted to the dbSNP database. The gene annotation uncovered haplotype-specific differences and confirmed the presence of more than 300 loci, including over 160 protein-coding genes. Combined analysis of the variation and annotation datasets revealed 122 gene loci with coding substitutions of which 97 were non-synonymous. The haplotype (A3-B7-DR15; PGF cell line) designated as the new MHC reference sequence, has been incorporated into the human genome assembly (NCBI35 and subsequent builds), and constitutes the largest single-haplotype sequence of the human genome to date. The extensive variation and annotation data derived from the analysis of seven further haplotypes have been made publicly available and provide a framework and resource for future association studies of all MHC-associated diseases and transplant medicine.
doi:10.1007/s00251-007-0262-2
PMCID: PMC2206249  PMID: 18193213
Major histocompatibility complex; Haplotype; Polymorphism; Retroelement; Genetic predisposition to disease; Population genetics
5.  Replication of the association of HLA-B7 with Alzheimer's disease: a role for homozygosity? 
Background
There are reasons to expect an association with Alzheimer's disease (AD) within the HLA region. The HLA-B & C genes have, however, been relatively understudied. A geographically specific association with HLA-B7 & HLA-Cw*0702 had been suggested by our previous, small study.
Methods
We studied the HLA-B & C alleles in 196 cases of 'definite' or 'probable' AD and 199 elderly controls of the OPTIMA cohort, the largest full study of these alleles in AD to date.
Results
We replicated the association of HLA-B7 with AD (overall, adjusted odds ratio = 2.3, 95% confidence interval = 1.4–3.7, p = 0.001), but not the previously suggested interaction with the ε4 allele of apolipoprotein E. Results for HLA-Cw*0702, which is in tight linkage disequilibrium with HLA-B7, were consistent with those for the latter. Homozygotes of both alleles appeared to be at particularly high risk of AD.
Conclusion
HLA-B7 and HLA-Cw*0702 are associated with AD in the Oxford population. Because of the contradictions between cohorts in our previous study, we suggest that these results may be geographically specific. This might be because of differences between populations in the structure of linkage disequilibrium or in interactions with environmental, genetic or epigenetic factors. A much larger study will be needed to clarify the role of homozygosity of HLA alleles in AD risk.
doi:10.1186/1742-2094-3-33
PMCID: PMC1764414  PMID: 17176470
6.  Genetic Analysis of Completely Sequenced Disease-Associated MHC Haplotypes Identifies Shuffling of Segments in Recent Human History 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(1):e9.
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is recognised as one of the most important genetic regions in relation to common human disease. Advancement in identification of MHC genes that confer susceptibility to disease requires greater knowledge of sequence variation across the complex. Highly duplicated and polymorphic regions of the human genome such as the MHC are, however, somewhat refractory to some whole-genome analysis methods. To address this issue, we are employing a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) cloning strategy to sequence entire MHC haplotypes from consanguineous cell lines as part of the MHC Haplotype Project. Here we present 4.25 Mb of the human haplotype QBL (HLA-A26-B18-Cw5-DR3-DQ2) and compare it with the MHC reference haplotype and with a second haplotype, COX (HLA-A1-B8-Cw7-DR3-DQ2), that shares the same HLA-DRB1, -DQA1, and -DQB1 alleles. We have defined the complete gene, splice variant, and sequence variation contents of all three haplotypes, comprising over 259 annotated loci and over 20,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Certain coding sequences vary significantly between different haplotypes, making them candidates for functional and disease-association studies. Analysis of the two DR3 haplotypes allowed delineation of the shared sequence between two HLA class II–related haplotypes differing in disease associations and the identification of at least one of the sites that mediated the original recombination event. The levels of variation across the MHC were similar to those seen for other HLA-disparate haplotypes, except for a 158-kb segment that contained the HLA-DRB1, -DQA1, and -DQB1 genes and showed very limited polymorphism compatible with identity-by-descent and relatively recent common ancestry (<3,400 generations). These results indicate that the differential disease associations of these two DR3 haplotypes are due to sequence variation outside this central 158-kb segment, and that shuffling of ancestral blocks via recombination is a potential mechanism whereby certain DR–DQ allelic combinations, which presumably have favoured immunological functions, can spread across haplotypes and populations.
Synopsis
A group of genes involved in the human immune system are contained within a surprisingly short section of Chromosome 6 that has long been recognised as the most important genomic region in relation to disease susceptibility. Discerning the actual genes playing a role in disease has proved difficult mainly because the region contains numerous genes and is also the most genetically variable in the genome. Within this jungle of variation, the research reported here has identified and characterised a discrete segment shared by two individuals that is virtually devoid of variation—a polymorphism desert. The conservation of this segment amongst a background of extreme variation suggests both an ancient origin and genetic exchange in early human history. These observations are important in evolutionary terms as they reveal a potential mechanism whereby certain genetic segments associated with favourable immune functions have spread across human populations. Within medical terms this may also explain contrasting disease risks in people from different ethnic backgrounds. Public access to these data will help researchers find specific variants conferring disease susceptibility or resistance and, as in this report, rule out regions for conveying specificity to certain diseases.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0020009
PMCID: PMC1331980  PMID: 16440057
7.  A second major histocompatibility complex susceptibility locus for multiple sclerosis 
Annals of Neurology  2007;61(3):228-236.
Objective
Variation in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on chromosome 6p21 is known to influence susceptibility to multiple sclerosis with the strongest effect originating from the HLA-DRB1 gene in the class II region. The possibility that other genes in the MHC independently influence susceptibility to multiple sclerosis has been suggested but remains unconfirmed.
Methods
Using a combination of microsatellite, single nucleotide polymorphism, and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing, we screened the MHC in trio families looking for evidence of residual association above and beyond that attributable to the established DRB1*1501 risk haplotype. We then refined this analysis by extending the genotyping of classical HLA loci into independent cases and control subjects.
Results
Screening confirmed the presence of residual association and suggested that this was maximal in the region of the HLA-C gene. Extending analysis of the classical loci confirmed that this residual association is partly due to allelic heterogeneity at the HLA-DRB1 locus, but also reflects an independent effect from the HLA-C gene. Specifically, the HLA-C*05 allele, or a variant in tight linkage disequilibrium with it, appears to exert a protective effect (p = 3.3 × 10−5).
Interpretation
Variation in the HLA-C gene influences susceptibility to multiple sclerosis independently of any effect attributable to the nearby HLA-DRB1 gene. Ann Neurol 2007
doi:10.1002/ana.21063
PMCID: PMC2737610  PMID: 17252545

Results 1-7 (7)