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1.  A pathway-based analysis provides additional support for an immune-related genetic susceptibility to Parkinson's disease 
Holmans, Peter | Moskvina, Valentina | Jones, Lesley | Sharma, Manu | Vedernikov, Alexey | Buchel, Finja | Sadd, Mohamad | Bras, Jose M. | Bettella, Francesco | Nicolaou, Nayia | Simón-Sánchez, Javier | Mittag, Florian | Gibbs, J. Raphael | Schulte, Claudia | Durr, Alexandra | Guerreiro, Rita | Hernandez, Dena | Brice, Alexis | Stefánsson, Hreinn | Majamaa, Kari | Gasser, Thomas | Heutink, Peter | Wood, Nicholas W. | Martinez, Maria | Singleton, Andrew B. | Nalls, Michael A. | Hardy, John | Morris, Huw R. | Williams, Nigel M. | Arepalli, Sampath | Barker, Roger | Barrett, Jeffrey | Ben-Shlomo, Yoav | Berendse, Henk W. | Berg, Daniela | Bhatia, Kailash | de Bie, Rob M.A. | Biffi, Alessandro | Bloem, Bas | Brice, Alexis | Bochdanovits, Zoltan | Bonin, Michael | Bras, Jose M. | Brockmann, Kathrin | Brooks, Janet | Burn, David J. | Charlesworth, Gavin | Chen, Honglei | Chinnery, Patrick F. | Chong, Sean | Clarke, Carl E. | Cookson, Mark R. | Cooper, Jonathan M. | Corvol, Jen-Christophe | Counsell, Carl | Damier, Philippe | Dartigues, Jean Francois | Deloukas, Panagiotis | Deuschl, Günther | Dexter, David T. | van Dijk, Karin D. | Dillman, Allissa | Durif, Frank | Durr, Alexandra | Edkins, Sarah | Evans, Jonathan R. | Foltynie, Thomas | Gao, Jianjun | Gardner, Michelle | Gasser, Thomas | Gibbs, J. Raphael | Goate, Alison | Gray, Emma | Guerreiro, Rita | Gústafsson, Ómar | Hardy, John | Harris, Clare | Hernandez, Dena G. | Heutink, Peter | van Hilten, Jacobus J. | Hofman, Albert | Hollenbeck, Albert | Holmans, Peter | Holton, Janice | Hu, Michele | Huber, Heiko | Hudson, Gavin | Hunt, Sarah E. | Huttenlocher, Johanna | Illig, Thomas | Langford, Cordelia | Lees, Andrew | Lesage, Suzanne | Lichtner, Peter | Limousin, Patricia | Lopez, Grisel | Lorenz, Delia | Martinez, Maria | McNeill, Alisdair | Moorby, Catriona | Moore, Matthew | Morris, Huw | Morrison, Karen E. | Moskvina, Valentina | Mudanohwo, Ese | Nalls, Michael A. | Pearson, Justin | Perlmutter, Joel S. | Pétursson, Hjörvar | Plagnol, Vincent | Pollak, Pierre | Post, Bart | Potter, Simon | Ravina, Bernard | Revesz, Tamas | Riess, Olaf | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Rizzu, Patrizia | Ryten, Mina | Saad, Mohamad | Sawcer, Stephen | Schapira, Anthony | Scheffer, Hans | Sharma, Manu | Shaw, Karen | Sheerin, Una-Marie | Shoulson, Ira | Schulte, Claudia | Sidransky, Ellen | Simón-Sánchez, Javier | Singleton, Andrew B. | Smith, Colin | Stefánsson, Hreinn | Stefánsson, Kári | Steinberg, Stacy | Stockton, Joanna D. | Sveinbjornsdottir, Sigurlaug | Talbot, Kevin | Tanner, Carlie M. | Tashakkori-Ghanbaria, Avazeh | Tison, François | Trabzuni, Daniah | Traynor, Bryan J. | Uitterlinden, André G. | Velseboer, Daan | Vidailhet, Marie | Walker, Robert | van de Warrenburg, Bart | Wickremaratchi, Mirdhu | Williams, Nigel | Williams-Gray, Caroline H. | Winder-Rhodes, Sophie | Wood, Nicholas
Human Molecular Genetics  2012;22(5):1039-1049.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease affecting 1–2% in people >60 and 3–4% in people >80. Genome-wide association (GWA) studies have now implicated significant evidence for association in at least 18 genomic regions. We have studied a large PD-meta analysis and identified a significant excess of SNPs (P < 1 × 10−16) that are associated with PD but fall short of the genome-wide significance threshold. This result was independent of variants at the 18 previously implicated regions and implies the presence of additional polygenic risk alleles. To understand how these loci increase risk of PD, we applied a pathway-based analysis, testing for biological functions that were significantly enriched for genes containing variants associated with PD. Analysing two independent GWA studies, we identified that both had a significant excess in the number of functional categories enriched for PD-associated genes (minimum P = 0.014 and P = 0.006, respectively). Moreover, 58 categories were significantly enriched for associated genes in both GWA studies (P < 0.001), implicating genes involved in the ‘regulation of leucocyte/lymphocyte activity’ and also ‘cytokine-mediated signalling’ as conferring an increased susceptibility to PD. These results were unaltered by the exclusion of all 178 genes that were present at the 18 genomic regions previously reported to be strongly associated with PD (including the HLA locus). Our findings, therefore, provide independent support to the strong association signal at the HLA locus and imply that the immune-related genetic susceptibility to PD is likely to be more widespread in the genome than previously appreciated.
PMCID: PMC3561909  PMID: 23223016
2.  Canine Hereditary Ataxia in Old English Sheepdogs and Gordon Setters Is Associated with a Defect in the Autophagy Gene Encoding RAB24 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(2):e1003991.
Old English Sheepdogs and Gordon Setters suffer from a juvenile onset, autosomal recessive form of canine hereditary ataxia primarily affecting the Purkinje neuron of the cerebellar cortex. The clinical and histological characteristics are analogous to hereditary ataxias in humans. Linkage and genome-wide association studies on a cohort of related Old English Sheepdogs identified a region on CFA4 strongly associated with the disease phenotype. Targeted sequence capture and next generation sequencing of the region identified an A to C single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) located at position 113 in exon 1 of an autophagy gene, RAB24, that segregated with the phenotype. Genotyping of six additional breeds of dogs affected with hereditary ataxia identified the same polymorphism in affected Gordon Setters that segregated perfectly with phenotype. The other breeds tested did not have the polymorphism. Genome-wide SNP genotyping of Gordon Setters identified a 1.9 MB region with an identical haplotype to affected Old English Sheepdogs. Histopathology, immunohistochemistry and ultrastructural evaluation of the brains of affected dogs from both breeds identified dramatic Purkinje neuron loss with axonal spheroids, accumulation of autophagosomes, ubiquitin positive inclusions and a diffuse increase in cytoplasmic neuronal ubiquitin staining. These findings recapitulate the changes reported in mice with induced neuron-specific autophagy defects. Taken together, our results suggest that a defect in RAB24, a gene associated with autophagy, is highly associated with and may contribute to canine hereditary ataxia in Old English Sheepdogs and Gordon Setters. This finding suggests that detailed investigation of autophagy pathways should be undertaken in human hereditary ataxia.
Author Summary
Neurodegenerative diseases are one of the most important causes of decline in an aging population. An important subset of these diseases are known as the hereditary ataxias, familial neurodegenerative diseases that affect the cerebellum causing progressive gait disturbance in both humans and dogs. We identified a mutation in RAB24, a gene associated with autophagy, in Old English Sheepdogs and Gordon Setters with hereditary ataxia. Autophagy is a process by which cell proteins and organelles are removed and recycled and its critical role in maintenance of the continued health of cells is becoming clear. We evaluated the brains of affected dogs and identified accumulations of autophagosomes within the cerebellum, suggesting a defect in the autophagy pathway. Our results suggest that a defect in the autophagy pathway results in neuronal death in a naturally occurring disease in dogs. The autophagy pathway should be investigated in human hereditary ataxia and may represent a therapeutic target in neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC3916225  PMID: 24516392
3.  Exome sequencing reveals riboflavin transporter mutations as a cause of motor neuron disease 
Brain  2012;135(9):2875-2882.
Brown–Vialetto–Van Laere syndrome was first described in 1894 as a rare neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressive sensorineural deafness in combination with childhood amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Mutations in the gene, SLC52A3 (formerly C20orf54), one of three known riboflavin transporter genes, have recently been shown to underlie a number of severe cases of Brown–Vialetto–Van Laere syndrome; however, cases and families with this disease exist that do not appear to be caused by SLC52A3 mutations. We used a combination of linkage and exome sequencing to identify the disease causing mutation in an extended Lebanese Brown–Vialetto–Van Laere kindred, whose affected members were negative for SLC52A3 mutations. We identified a novel mutation in a second member of the riboflavin transporter gene family (gene symbol: SLC52A2) as the cause of disease in this family. The same mutation was identified in one additional subject, from 44 screened. Within this group of 44 patients, we also identified two additional cases with SLC52A3 mutations, but none with mutations in the remaining member of this gene family, SLC52A1. We believe this strongly supports the notion that defective riboflavin transport plays an important role in Brown–Vialetto–Van Laere syndrome. Initial work has indicated that patients with SLC52A3 defects respond to riboflavin treatment clinically and biochemically. Clearly, this makes an excellent candidate therapy for the SLC52A2 mutation-positive patients identified here. Initial riboflavin treatment of one of these patients shows promising results.
PMCID: PMC3437022  PMID: 22740598
motor neuron disease; ALS; riboflavin; BVVL; SLC52A2
4.  Integration of GWAS SNPs and tissue specific expression profiling reveal discrete eQTLs for human traits in blood and brain 
Neurobiology of Disease  2012;47(1):20-28.
Genome wide association studies have nominated many genetic variants for common human traits, including diseases, but in many cases the underlying biological reason for a trait association is unknown. Subsets of genetic polymorphisms show a statistical association with transcript expression levels, and have therefore been nominated as expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL). However, many tissue and cell types have specific gene expression patterns and so it is not clear how frequently eQTLs found in one tissue type will be replicated in others. In the present study we used two appropriately powered sample series to examine the genetic control of gene expression in blood and brain. We find that while many eQTLs associated with human traits are shared between these two tissues, there are also examples where blood and brain differ, either by restricted gene expression patterns in one tissue or because of differences in how genetic variants are associated with transcript levels. These observations suggest that design of eQTL mapping experiments should consider tissue of interest for the disease or other trait studied.
PMCID: PMC3358430  PMID: 22433082
5.  Frequency of the C9ORF72 hexanucleotide repeat expansion in ALS and FTD in diverse populations: a cross-sectional study 
Lancet Neurology  2012;11(4):323-330.
A hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9ORF72 gene has recently been shown to cause a large proportion of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and fronto-temporal dementia (FTD).
We screened 4,448 patients diagnosed with ALS and 1,425 patients diagnosed with FTD drawn from diverse populations for the hexanucleotide expansion using a repeat-primed PCR assay. ALS and FTD were diagnosed according to the El Escorial and Lund-Manchester criteria respectively. Familial status was based on self-reported family history of similar neurodegenerative diseases at the time of sample collection. Haplotype data of 262 patients carrying the expansion were compared with the known Finnish founder risk haplotype across the chromosomal locus. Age-related penetrance was calculated by the Kaplan-Meier method using data from 603 individuals carrying the expansion.
The mutation was observed among 7·0% (n = 236 of 3,377) of Caucasians, 4·1% (n = 2 of 49) of African-Americans, and 8·3% (n = 6 of 72) of Hispanic individuals diagnosed with sporadic ALS, whereas the rate was 6·0% (n = 59 of 981) among Caucasians diagnosed with sporadic FTD. Among Asians, 5·0% (n = 1 of 20) of familial ALS and 66·6% (n = 2 of 3) of familial FTD cases carried the repeat expansion. In contrast, mutations were not observed among patients of Native American (n = 3 sporadic ALS), Indian (n = 31 sporadic ALS, n = 31 sporadic FTD), and Pacific Islander (n = 90 sporadic ALS) ethnicity. All patients with the repeat expansion carried, either partially or fully, the founder haplotype suggesting that the expansion occurred on a single occasion in the past (~1,500 years ago). The pathogenic expansion was non-penetrant below 35 years of age, increasing to 50·0% penetrance by 58 years of age, and was almost fully penetrant by 80 years of age.
We confirm that a common single Mendelian genetic lesion is implicated in a large proportion of sporadic and familial ALS and FTD. Testing for this pathogenic expansion will be important in the management and genetic counseling of patients with these fatal neurodegenerative diseases.
See Acknowledgements.
PMCID: PMC3322422  PMID: 22406228
6.  Resolving the polymorphism-in-probe problem is critical for correct interpretation of expression QTL studies 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(7):e88.
Polymorphisms in the target mRNA sequence can greatly affect the binding affinity of microarray probe sequences, leading to false-positive and false-negative expression quantitative trait locus (QTL) signals with any other polymorphisms in linkage disequilibrium. We provide the most complete solution to this problem, by using the latest genome and exome sequence reference data to identify almost all common polymorphisms (frequency >1% in Europeans) in probe sequences for two commonly used microarray panels (the gene-based Illumina Human HT12 array, which uses 50-mer probes, and exon-based Affymetrix Human Exon 1.0 ST array, which uses 25-mer probes). We demonstrate the impact of this problem using cerebellum and frontal cortex tissues from 438 neuropathologically normal individuals. We find that although only a small proportion of the probes contain polymorphisms, they account for a large proportion of apparent expression QTL signals, and therefore result in many false signals being declared as real. We find that the polymorphism-in-probe problem is insufficiently controlled by previous protocols, and illustrate this using some notable false-positive and false-negative examples in MAPT and PRICKLE1 that can be found in many eQTL databases. We recommend that both new and existing eQTL data sets should be carefully checked in order to adequately address this issue.
PMCID: PMC3627570  PMID: 23435227
7.  SNCA Variants Are Associated with Increased Risk for Multiple System Atrophy 
Annals of neurology  2009;65(5):610-614.
To test whether the synucleinopathies Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy (MSA) share a common genetic etiology, we performed a candidate single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) association study of the 384 most associated SNPs in a genome-wide association study of Parkinson’s disease in 413 MSA cases and 3,974 control subjects. The 10 most significant SNPs were then replicated in additional 108 MSA cases and 537 controls. SNPs at the SNCA locus were significantly associated with risk for increased risk for the development of MSA (combined p = 5.5 × 1012; odds ratio 6.2).
PMCID: PMC3520128  PMID: 19475667
8.  APOE and A-betaPP Gene Variation in Cortical and Cerebrovascular Amyloid-beta Pathology and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Population-Based Analysis 
Cortical and cerebrovascular amyloid-beta (A-beta) deposition is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but also occurs in elderly people not affected by dementia. The apolipoprotein E (APOE) epsilon4 is a major genetic modulator of A-beta deposition and AD risk. Variants of the amyloid-beta protein precursor (A-betaPP) gene have been reported to contribute to AD and cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA). We analyzed the role of APOE and A-beta PP variants in cortical and cerebrovascular A-beta deposition, and neuropathologically verified AD (based on modified NIA-RI criteria) in a population-based autopsy sample of Finns aged ≥85 years (Vantaa85 + Study; n = 282). Our updated analysis of APOE showed strong associations of the epsilon4 allele with cortical (p = 4.91×10−17) and cerebrovascular (p = 9.87×10−11) A-beta deposition as well as with NIA-RI AD (p = 1.62×10−8). We also analyzed 60 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at the A-betaPP locus. In single SNP or haplotype analyses there were no statistically significant A-betaPP locus associations with cortical or cerebrovascular A-beta deposition or with NIA-RI AD. We sequenced the promoter of the A-betaPP gene in 40 subjects with very high A-beta deposition, but none of these subjects had any of the previously reported or novel AD-associated mutations. These results suggest that cortical and cerebrovascular A-beta depositions are useful quantitative traits for genetic studies, as highlighted by the strong associations with the APOE epsilon4 variant. Promoter mutations or common allelic variation in the A-betaPP gene do not have a major contribution to cortical or cerebrovascular A-beta deposition, or very late-onset AD in this Finnish population based study.
PMCID: PMC3516850  PMID: 21654062
9.  Large proportion of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cases in Sardinia are due to a single founder mutation of the TARDBP gene 
Archives of neurology  2011;68(5):594-598.
To perform an extensive screening for mutations of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)–related genes in a consecutive cohort of Sardinian patients, a genetic isolate phylogenically distinct from other European populations.
Population-based, prospective cohort study.
A total of 135 Sardinian patients with ALS and 156 healthy control subjects of Sardinian origin who were age- and sex-matched to patients.
Patients underwent mutational analysis for SOD1, FUS, and TARDBP.
Mutational screening of the entire cohort found that 39 patients (28.7%) carried the c.1144G A (p.A382T) missense mutation of the TARDBP gene. Of these, 15 had familial ALS (belonging to 10 distinct pedigrees) and 24 had apparently sporadic ALS. None of the 156 age-, sex-, and ethnicity-matched controls carried the pathogenic variant. Genotype data obtained for 5 ALS cases carrying the p.A382T mutation found that they shared a 94–single-nucleotide polymorphism risk haplotype that spanned 663 Kb across the TARDBP locus on chromosome 1p36.22. Three patients with ALS who carry the p.A382T mutation developed extrapyramidal symptoms several years after their initial presentation with motor weakness.
The TARDBP p.A382T missense mutation accounts for approximately one-third of all ALS cases in this island population. These patients share a large risk haplotype across the TARDBP locus, indicating that they have a common ancestor.
PMCID: PMC3513278  PMID: 21220647
10.  Integration of GWAS SNPs and tissue specific expression profiling reveal discrete eQTLs for human traits in blood and brain 
Neurobiology of Disease  2012;47(1):20-28.
Genome-wide association studies have nominated many genetic variants for common human traits, including diseases, but in many cases the underlying biological reason for a trait association is unknown. Subsets of genetic polymorphisms show a statistical association with transcript expression levels, and have therefore been nominated as expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL). However, many tissue and cell types have specific gene expression patterns and so it is not clear how frequently eQTLs found in one tissue type will be replicated in others. In the present study we used two appropriately powered sample series to examine the genetic control of gene expression in blood and brain. We find that while many eQTLs associated with human traits are shared between these two tissues, there are also examples where blood and brain differ, either by restricted gene expression patterns in one tissue or because of differences in how genetic variants are associated with transcript levels. These observations suggest that design of eQTL mapping experiments should consider tissue of interest for the disease or other traits studied.
► We integrate GWAS SNPs and examine the genetic control of gene expression in blood and brain tissue. ► Many eQTLs associated with human traits are shared between the blood and the brain. ► A number of discrete, tissue specific eQTLs also exist in the blood or the brain. ► Functional studies in blood have a limited capacity to inform on regulatory variation in the brain. ► Design of eQTL mapping experiments should consider the tissue of interest for the phenotype studied.
PMCID: PMC3358430  PMID: 22433082
eQTL; GWAS; Brain; Blood
11.  MAPT expression and splicing is differentially regulated by brain region: relation to genotype and implication for tauopathies 
Human Molecular Genetics  2012;21(18):4094-4103.
The MAPT (microtubule-associated protein tau) locus is one of the most remarkable in neurogenetics due not only to its involvement in multiple neurodegenerative disorders, including progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, Parksinson's disease and possibly Alzheimer's disease, but also due its genetic evolution and complex alternative splicing features which are, to some extent, linked and so all the more intriguing. Therefore, obtaining robust information regarding the expression, splicing and genetic regulation of this gene within the human brain is of immense importance. In this study, we used 2011 brain samples originating from 439 individuals to provide the most reliable and coherent information on the regional expression, splicing and regulation of MAPT available to date. We found significant regional variation in mRNA expression and splicing of MAPT within the human brain. Furthermore, at the gene level, the regional distribution of mRNA expression and total tau protein expression levels were largely in agreement, appearing to be highly correlated. Finally and most importantly, we show that while the reported H1/H2 association with gene level expression is likely to be due to a technical artefact, this polymorphism is associated with the expression of exon 3-containing isoforms in human brain. These findings would suggest that contrary to the prevailing view, genetic risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases at the MAPT locus are likely to operate by changing mRNA splicing in different brain regions, as opposed to the overall expression of the MAPT gene.
PMCID: PMC3428157  PMID: 22723018
12.  Genome-wide association study confirms extant PD risk loci among the Dutch 
In view of the population-specific heterogeneity in reported genetic risk factors for Parkinson's disease (PD), we conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) in a large sample of PD cases and controls from the Netherlands. After quality control (QC), a total of 514 799 SNPs genotyped in 772 PD cases and 2024 controls were included in our analyses. Direct replication of SNPs within SNCA and BST1 confirmed these two genes to be associated with PD in the Netherlands (SNCA, rs2736990: P=1.63 × 10−5, OR=1.325 and BST1, rs12502586: P=1.63 × 10−3, OR=1.337). Within SNCA, two independent signals in two different linkage disequilibrium (LD) blocks in the 3′ and 5′ ends of the gene were detected. Besides, post-hoc analysis confirmed GAK/DGKQ, HLA and MAPT as PD risk loci among the Dutch (GAK/DGKQ, rs2242235: P=1.22 × 10−4, OR=1.51; HLA, rs4248166: P=4.39 × 10−5, OR=1.36; and MAPT, rs3785880: P=1.9 × 10−3, OR=1.19).
PMCID: PMC3110043  PMID: 21248740
13.  Frequency of the C9orf72 hexanucleotide repeat expansion in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia: a cross-sectional study 
Lancet Neurology  2012;11(4):323-330.
We aimed to accurately estimate the frequency of a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9orf72 that has been associated with a large proportion of cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
We screened 4448 patients diagnosed with ALS (El Escorial criteria) and 1425 patients with FTD (Lund-Manchester criteria) from 17 regions worldwide for the GGGGCC hexanucleotide expansion using a repeat-primed PCR assay. We assessed familial disease status on the basis of self-reported family history of similar neurodegenerative diseases at the time of sample collection. We compared haplotype data for 262 patients carrying the expansion with the known Finnish founder risk haplotype across the chromosomal locus. We calculated age-related penetrance using the Kaplan-Meier method with data for 603 individuals with the expansion.
In patients with sporadic ALS, we identified the repeat expansion in 236 (7·0%) of 3377 white individuals from the USA, Europe, and Australia, two (4·1%) of 49 black individuals from the USA, and six (8·3%) of 72 Hispanic individuals from the USA. The mutation was present in 217 (39·3%) of 552 white individuals with familial ALS from Europe and the USA. 59 (6·0%) of 981 white Europeans with sporadic FTD had the mutation, as did 99 (24·8%) of 400 white Europeans with familial FTD. Data for other ethnic groups were sparse, but we identified one Asian patient with familial ALS (from 20 assessed) and two with familial FTD (from three assessed) who carried the mutation. The mutation was not carried by the three Native Americans or 360 patients from Asia or the Pacific Islands with sporadic ALS who were tested, or by 41 Asian patients with sporadic FTD. All patients with the repeat expansion had (partly or fully) the founder haplotype, suggesting a one-off expansion occurring about 1500 years ago. The pathogenic expansion was non-penetrant in individuals younger than 35 years, 50% penetrant by 58 years, and almost fully penetrant by 80 years.
A common Mendelian genetic lesion in C9orf72 is implicated in many cases of sporadic and familial ALS and FTD. Testing for this pathogenic expansion should be considered in the management and genetic counselling of patients with these fatal neurodegenerative diseases.
Full funding sources listed at end of paper (see Acknowledgments).
PMCID: PMC3322422  PMID: 22406228
14.  Distinct DNA methylation changes highly correlated with chronological age in the human brain 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;20(6):1164-1172.
Methylation at CpG sites is a critical epigenetic modification in mammals. Altered DNA methylation has been suggested to be a central mechanism in development, some disease processes and cellular senescence. Quantifying the extent and identity of epigenetic changes in the aging process is therefore potentially important for understanding longevity and age-related diseases. In the current study, we have examined DNA methylation at >27 000 CpG sites throughout the human genome, in frontal cortex, temporal cortex, pons and cerebellum from 387 human donors between the ages of 1 and 102 years. We identify CpG loci that show a highly significant, consistent correlation between DNA methylation and chronological age. The majority of these loci are within CpG islands and there is a positive correlation between age and DNA methylation level. Lastly, we show that the CpG sites where the DNA methylation level is significantly associated with age are physically close to genes involved in DNA binding and regulation of transcription. This suggests that specific age-related DNA methylation changes may have quite a broad impact on gene expression in the human brain.
PMCID: PMC3043665  PMID: 21216877
15.  Exome sequencing reveals VCP mutations as a cause of familial ALS 
Neuron  2010;68(5):857-864.
Using exome sequencing, we identified a p.R191Q amino acid change in the valosin-containing protein (VCP) gene in an Italian family with autosomal dominantly inherited amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Mutations in VCP have previously been identified in families with Inclusion Body Myopathy, Paget’s disease and Frontotemporal Dementia (IBMPFD). Screening of VCP in a cohort of 210 familial ALS cases and 78 autopsy-proven ALS cases identified four additional mutations including a p.R155H mutation in a pathologically-proven case of ALS. VCP protein is essential for maturation of ubiquitin-containing autophagosomes, and mutant VCP toxicity is partially mediated through its effect on TDP-43 protein, a major constituent of ubiquitin inclusions that neuropathologically characterize ALS. Our data broaden the phenotype of IBMPFD to include motor neuron degeneration, suggest that VCP mutations may account for ~1–2% of familial ALS, and represent the first evidence directly implicating defects in the ubiquitination/protein degradation pathway in motor neuron degeneration.
PMCID: PMC3032425  PMID: 21145000
16.  SCA15 due to large ITPR1 deletions in a cohort of 333 Caucasian families with dominant ataxia 
Archives of neurology  2011;68(5):637-643.
to determine the frequency and the phenotypical spectrum of SCA15 patients.
in the index cases of 333 families with autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia (ADCA) negative for CAG repeat expansions in coding exons (SCA1,2,3,6,7,17 and dentatorubropallidoluysian atrophy), we searched for heterozygous rearrangements in ITPR1. Taqman PCR (258 index cases) or SNP genome-wide genotyping (75 index cases) were used.
a deletion of ITPR1 was found in 6/333 (1.8%) families, corresponding to 13 SCA15 patients. Age at onset ranged from 18 to 66 years with a mean of 35±16 years. The symptom at onset was mainly cerebellar gait ataxia, except for one patient presenting with isolated upper limb tremor. Although we tested a large cohort of families irrespective of their phenotype, the main clinical features of SCA15 patients were homogeneous and characterized by a very slowly progressive gait and limb cerebellar ataxia with dysarthria. However, pyramidal signs (two patients), and mild cognitive problems (two patients) were occasionally present. Ocular alterations consisted of nystagmus, mainly horizontal and gaze-evoked (ten patients), and saccadic pursuit (seven patients). Radiological findings showed global or predominant vermian cerebellar atrophy in all patients.
In this series ITPR1 deletions are rare and account for ~1% of all ADCA. The SCA15 phenotype mostly consists of a slowly progressive isolated cerebellar ataxia with variable age at onset; an additional pyramidal syndrome and problems in executive functions may be present in a minority of patients.
PMCID: PMC3142680  PMID: 21555639
17.  Genome-Wide Association Study of White Blood Cell Count in 16,388 African Americans: the Continental Origins and Genetic Epidemiology Network (COGENT) 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002108.
Total white blood cell (WBC) and neutrophil counts are lower among individuals of African descent due to the common African-derived “null” variant of the Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines (DARC) gene. Additional common genetic polymorphisms were recently associated with total WBC and WBC sub-type levels in European and Japanese populations. No additional loci that account for WBC variability have been identified in African Americans. In order to address this, we performed a large genome-wide association study (GWAS) of total WBC and cell subtype counts in 16,388 African-American participants from 7 population-based cohorts available in the Continental Origins and Genetic Epidemiology Network. In addition to the DARC locus on chromosome 1q23, we identified two other regions (chromosomes 4q13 and 16q22) associated with WBC in African Americans (P<2.5×10−8). The lead SNP (rs9131) on chromosome 4q13 is located in the CXCL2 gene, which encodes a chemotactic cytokine for polymorphonuclear leukocytes. Independent evidence of the novel CXCL2 association with WBC was present in 3,551 Hispanic Americans, 14,767 Japanese, and 19,509 European Americans. The index SNP (rs12149261) on chromosome 16q22 associated with WBC count is located in a large inter-chromosomal segmental duplication encompassing part of the hydrocephalus inducing homolog (HYDIN) gene. We demonstrate that the chromosome 16q22 association finding is most likely due to a genotyping artifact as a consequence of sequence similarity between duplicated regions on chromosomes 16q22 and 1q21. Among the WBC loci recently identified in European or Japanese populations, replication was observed in our African-American meta-analysis for rs445 of CDK6 on chromosome 7q21 and rs4065321 of PSMD3-CSF3 region on chromosome 17q21. In summary, the CXCL2, CDK6, and PSMD3-CSF3 regions are associated with WBC count in African American and other populations. We also demonstrate that large inter-chromosomal duplications can result in false positive associations in GWAS.
Author Summary
Although recent genome-wide association studies have identified common genetic variants associated with total white blood cell (WBC) and WBC sub-type counts in European and Japanese ancestry populations, whether these or other loci account for differences in WBC count among African Americans is unknown. By examining >16,000 African Americans, we show that, in addition to the previously identified Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines (DARC) locus on chromosome 1, another variant, rs9131, and other nearby variants on human chromosome 4 are associated with total WBC count in African Americans. The variants span the CXCL2 gene, which encodes an inflammatory mediator involved in WBC production and migration. We show that the association is not restricted to African Americans but is also present in independent samples of European Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Japanese. This finding is potentially important because WBC mediate or have altered counts in a variety of acute and chronic disorders.
PMCID: PMC3128101  PMID: 21738479
18.  Multiple Loci Are Associated with White Blood Cell Phenotypes 
Nalls, Michael A. | Couper, David J. | Tanaka, Toshiko | van Rooij, Frank J. A. | Chen, Ming-Huei | Smith, Albert V. | Toniolo, Daniela | Zakai, Neil A. | Yang, Qiong | Greinacher, Andreas | Wood, Andrew R. | Garcia, Melissa | Gasparini, Paolo | Liu, Yongmei | Lumley, Thomas | Folsom, Aaron R. | Reiner, Alex P. | Gieger, Christian | Lagou, Vasiliki | Felix, Janine F. | Völzke, Henry | Gouskova, Natalia A. | Biffi, Alessandro | Döring, Angela | Völker, Uwe | Chong, Sean | Wiggins, Kerri L. | Rendon, Augusto | Dehghan, Abbas | Moore, Matt | Taylor, Kent | Wilson, James G. | Lettre, Guillaume | Hofman, Albert | Bis, Joshua C. | Pirastu, Nicola | Fox, Caroline S. | Meisinger, Christa | Sambrook, Jennifer | Arepalli, Sampath | Nauck, Matthias | Prokisch, Holger | Stephens, Jonathan | Glazer, Nicole L. | Cupples, L. Adrienne | Okada, Yukinori | Takahashi, Atsushi | Kamatani, Yoichiro | Matsuda, Koichi | Tsunoda, Tatsuhiko | Tanaka, Toshihiro | Kubo, Michiaki | Nakamura, Yusuke | Yamamoto, Kazuhiko | Kamatani, Naoyuki | Stumvoll, Michael | Tönjes, Anke | Prokopenko, Inga | Illig, Thomas | Patel, Kushang V. | Garner, Stephen F. | Kuhnel, Brigitte | Mangino, Massimo | Oostra, Ben A. | Thein, Swee Lay | Coresh, Josef | Wichmann, H.-Erich | Menzel, Stephan | Lin, JingPing | Pistis, Giorgio | Uitterlinden, André G. | Spector, Tim D. | Teumer, Alexander | Eiriksdottir, Gudny | Gudnason, Vilmundur | Bandinelli, Stefania | Frayling, Timothy M. | Chakravarti, Aravinda | van Duijn, Cornelia M. | Melzer, David | Ouwehand, Willem H. | Levy, Daniel | Boerwinkle, Eric | Singleton, Andrew B. | Hernandez, Dena G. | Longo, Dan L. | Soranzo, Nicole | Witteman, Jacqueline C. M. | Psaty, Bruce M. | Ferrucci, Luigi | Harris, Tamara B. | O'Donnell, Christopher J. | Ganesh, Santhi K. | Visscher, Peter M.
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002113.
White blood cell (WBC) count is a common clinical measure from complete blood count assays, and it varies widely among healthy individuals. Total WBC count and its constituent subtypes have been shown to be moderately heritable, with the heritability estimates varying across cell types. We studied 19,509 subjects from seven cohorts in a discovery analysis, and 11,823 subjects from ten cohorts for replication analyses, to determine genetic factors influencing variability within the normal hematological range for total WBC count and five WBC subtype measures. Cohort specific data was supplied by the CHARGE, HeamGen, and INGI consortia, as well as independent collaborative studies. We identified and replicated ten associations with total WBC count and five WBC subtypes at seven different genomic loci (total WBC count—6p21 in the HLA region, 17q21 near ORMDL3, and CSF3; neutrophil count—17q21; basophil count- 3p21 near RPN1 and C3orf27; lymphocyte count—6p21, 19p13 at EPS15L1; monocyte count—2q31 at ITGA4, 3q21, 8q24 an intergenic region, 9q31 near EDG2), including three previously reported associations and seven novel associations. To investigate functional relationships among variants contributing to variability in the six WBC traits, we utilized gene expression- and pathways-based analyses. We implemented gene-clustering algorithms to evaluate functional connectivity among implicated loci and showed functional relationships across cell types. Gene expression data from whole blood was utilized to show that significant biological consequences can be extracted from our genome-wide analyses, with effect estimates for significant loci from the meta-analyses being highly corellated with the proximal gene expression. In addition, collaborative efforts between the groups contributing to this study and related studies conducted by the COGENT and RIKEN groups allowed for the examination of effect homogeneity for genome-wide significant associations across populations of diverse ancestral backgrounds.
Author Summary
WBC traits are highly variable, moderately heritable, and commonly assayed as part of clinical complete blood count (CBC) examinations. The counts of constituent cell subtypes comprising the WBC count measure are assayed as part of a standard clinical WBC differential test. In this study we employed meta-analytic techniques and identified ten associations with WBC measures at seven genomic loci in a large sample set of over 31,000 participants. Cohort specific data was supplied by the CHARGE, HeamGen, and INGI consortia, as well as independent collaborative studies. We confirm previous associations of WBC traits with three loci and identified seven novel loci. We also utilize a number of additional analytic methods to infer the functional relatedness of independently implicated loci across WBC phenotypes, as well as investigate direct functional consequences of these loci through analyses of genomic variation affecting the expression of proximal genes in samples of whole blood. In addition, subsequent collaborative efforts with studies of WBC traits in African-American and Japanese cohorts allowed for the investigation of the effects of these genomic variants across populations of diverse continental ancestries.
PMCID: PMC3128114  PMID: 21738480
19.  Genome-Wide Association Study reveals genetic risk underlying Parkinson’s disease 
Nature genetics  2009;41(12):1308-1312.
We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) in 1,713 Caucasian patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and 3,978 controls. After replication in 3,361 cases and 4,573 controls, two strong association signals were observed: in the α-synuclein gene(SNCA) (rs2736990, OR=1.23, p=2.24×10−16) and at the MAPT locus (rs393152, OR=0.77, p=1.95×10−16). We exchanged data with colleagues performing a GWAS in Asian PD cases. Association at SNCA was replicated in the Asian GWAS1, confirming this as a major risk locus across populations. We were able to replicate the effect of a novel locus detected in the Asian cohort (PARK16, rs823128, OR=0.66, p=7.29×10−8) and provide evidence supporting the role of common variability around LRRK2 in modulating risk for PD (rs1491923, OR=1.14, p=1.55×10−5). These data demonstrate an unequivocal role for common genetic variability in the etiology of typical PD and suggest population specific genetic heterogeneity in this disease.
PMCID: PMC2787725  PMID: 19915575
20.  Abundant Quantitative Trait Loci Exist for DNA Methylation and Gene Expression in Human Brain 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(5):e1000952.
A fundamental challenge in the post-genome era is to understand and annotate the consequences of genetic variation, particularly within the context of human tissues. We present a set of integrated experiments that investigate the effects of common genetic variability on DNA methylation and mRNA expression in four human brain regions each from 150 individuals (600 samples total). We find an abundance of genetic cis regulation of mRNA expression and show for the first time abundant quantitative trait loci for DNA CpG methylation across the genome. We show peak enrichment for cis expression QTLs to be approximately 68,000 bp away from individual transcription start sites; however, the peak enrichment for cis CpG methylation QTLs is located much closer, only 45 bp from the CpG site in question. We observe that the largest magnitude quantitative trait loci occur across distinct brain tissues. Our analyses reveal that CpG methylation quantitative trait loci are more likely to occur for CpG sites outside of islands. Lastly, we show that while we can observe individual QTLs that appear to affect both the level of a transcript and a physically close CpG methylation site, these are quite rare. We believe these data, which we have made publicly available, will provide a critical step toward understanding the biological effects of genetic variation.
Author Summary
In this paper, we describe a comprehensive assessment of the correlation between common genetic variability across the human genome, gene expression, and DNA methylation, within human brain. We studied the cerebellum, frontal cortex, temporal cortex, and pons regions of 150 individuals (600 tissue samples). In each tissue, we assessed 27,578 DNA methylation sites and the expression level of 22,184 genes. Our research shows that DNA methylation and RNA expression patterns differ between brain regions. Further, we show that DNA genotype is correlated with gene expression and DNA methylation, particularly when the genetic variation is close to the DNA methylation site or gene.
PMCID: PMC2869317  PMID: 20485568
21.  A two-stage genome-wide association study of sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(8):1524-1532.
The cause of sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is largely unknown, but genetic factors are thought to play a significant role in determining susceptibility to motor neuron degeneration. To identify genetic variants altering risk of ALS, we undertook a two-stage genome-wide association study (GWAS): we followed our initial GWAS of 545 066 SNPs in 553 individuals with ALS and 2338 controls by testing the 7600 most associated SNPs from the first stage in three independent cohorts consisting of 2160 cases and 3008 controls. None of the SNPs selected for replication exceeded the Bonferroni threshold for significance. The two most significantly associated SNPs, rs2708909 and rs2708851 [odds ratio (OR) = 1.17 and 1.18, and P-values = 6.98 × 10−7 and 1.16 × 10−6], were located on chromosome 7p13.3 within a 175 kb linkage disequilibrium block containing the SUNC1, HUS1 and C7orf57 genes. These associations did not achieve genome-wide significance in the original cohort and failed to replicate in an additional independent cohort of 989 US cases and 327 controls (OR = 1.18 and 1.19, P-values = 0.08 and 0.06, respectively). Thus, we chose to cautiously interpret our data as hypothesis-generating requiring additional confirmation, especially as all previously reported loci for ALS have failed to replicate successfully. Indeed, the three loci (FGGY, ITPR2 and DPP6) identified in previous GWAS of sporadic ALS were not significantly associated with disease in our study. Our findings suggest that ALS is more genetically and clinically heterogeneous than previously recognized. Genotype data from our study have been made available online to facilitate such future endeavors.
PMCID: PMC2664150  PMID: 19193627
22.  Further analysis of previously implicated linkage regions for Alzheimer's disease in affected relative pairs 
BMC Medical Genetics  2009;10:122.
Genome-wide linkage studies for Alzheimer's disease have implicated several chromosomal regions as potential loci for susceptibility genes.
In the present study, we have combined a selection of affected relative pairs (ARPs) from the UK and the USA included in a previous linkage study by Myers et al. (Am J Med Genet, 2002), with ARPs from Sweden and Washington University. In this total sample collection of 397 ARPs, we have analyzed linkage to chromosomes 1, 9, 10, 12, 19 and 21, implicated in the previous scan.
The analysis revealed that linkage to chromosome 19q13 close to the APOE locus increased considerably as compared to the earlier scan. However, linkage to chromosome 10q21, which provided the strongest linkage in the previous scan could not be detected.
The present investigation provides yet further evidence that 19q13 is the only chromosomal region consistently linked to Alzheimer's disease.
PMCID: PMC2791756  PMID: 19951422
23.  Does APOE Explain the Linkage of Alzheimer’s Disease to Chromosome 19q13? 
We have studied the impact of the apolipoprotein E gene (APOE) on the chromosome 19 linkage peak from an analysis of sib-pairs affected by Alzheimer’s disease. We genotyped 417 affected sib-pairs (ASPs) collected in Sweden and Norway (SWE), the UK and the USA for 10 microsatellite markers on chromosome 19. The highest Zlr (3.28, chromosome-wide P-value 0.036) from the multipoint linkage analysis was located approximately 1 Mb from APOE, at marker D19S178. The linkage to chromosome 19 was well explained by APOE in the whole sample as well as in the UK and USA subsamples, as identity by descent (IBD) increased with the number of ε4 alleles in ASPs. There was a suggestion from the SWE subsample that linkage was higher than would be expected from APOE alone, although the test for this did not reach formal statistical significance. There was also a significant age at onset (aao) effect on linkage to chromosome 19q13 in the whole sample, which manifested itself as increased IBD sharing in relative pairs with lower mean aao. This effect was partially, although not completely, explained by APOE. The aao effect varied considerably between the different subsamples, with most of the effect coming from the UK sample. The other samples showed smaller effects in the same direction, but these were not significant.
PMCID: PMC2726752  PMID: 18161859
Alzheimer’s disease; APOE; linkage; age at onset; apolipoprotein E
24.  IL1RN VNTR Polymorphism in Ischemic Stroke 
Background and Purpose
Genetic factors influence risk for ischemic stroke and likely do so at multiple steps in the pathogenic process. Variants in genes related to inflammation contribute to risk of stroke. The purpose of this study was to confirm our earlier finding of an association between allele 2 of a variable number tandem repeat of the IL-1 receptor antagonist gene (IL1RN) and cerebrovascular disease.
An association study of the variable number tandem repeat genotype with ischemic stroke and stroke subtypes was performed on samples from a North American study of affected sibling pairs concordant for ischemic stroke and 2 North American cohorts of prospectively ascertained ischemic stroke cases and unrelated controls. DNA analysis was performed on cases and controls, stratified by race.
After adjustment for age, sex, and stroke risk factors, the odds ratio for association of allele 2 and ischemic stroke was 2.80 (95% confidence interval, 1.29 to 6.11; P=0.03) for the white participants. The effect of allele 2 of IL1RN on stroke risk most closely fits a recessive genetic model (P=0.009). For the smaller sample of nonwhite participants, the results were not significant.
Allele 2 of IL1RN, present in nearly one-quarter of stroke patients, may contribute to genetic risk for ischemic stroke and confirm the previously identified association with cerebrovascular disease. These results are driven by the association in the white participants. Further exploration in a larger nonwhite sample is warranted.
PMCID: PMC2629799  PMID: 17332449
atherosclerosis; genetics; IL-1 receptor antagonist; ischemia; stroke
25.  A Genome-Wide Association Study Identifies Protein Quantitative Trait Loci (pQTLs) 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(5):e1000072.
There is considerable evidence that human genetic variation influences gene expression. Genome-wide studies have revealed that mRNA levels are associated with genetic variation in or close to the gene coding for those mRNA transcripts – cis effects, and elsewhere in the genome – trans effects. The role of genetic variation in determining protein levels has not been systematically assessed. Using a genome-wide association approach we show that common genetic variation influences levels of clinically relevant proteins in human serum and plasma. We evaluated the role of 496,032 polymorphisms on levels of 42 proteins measured in 1200 fasting individuals from the population based InCHIANTI study. Proteins included insulin, several interleukins, adipokines, chemokines, and liver function markers that are implicated in many common diseases including metabolic, inflammatory, and infectious conditions. We identified eight Cis effects, including variants in or near the IL6R (p = 1.8×10−57), CCL4L1 (p = 3.9×10−21), IL18 (p = 6.8×10−13), LPA (p = 4.4×10−10), GGT1 (p = 1.5×10−7), SHBG (p = 3.1×10−7), CRP (p = 6.4×10−6) and IL1RN (p = 7.3×10−6) genes, all associated with their respective protein products with effect sizes ranging from 0.19 to 0.69 standard deviations per allele. Mechanisms implicated include altered rates of cleavage of bound to unbound soluble receptor (IL6R), altered secretion rates of different sized proteins (LPA), variation in gene copy number (CCL4L1) and altered transcription (GGT1). We identified one novel trans effect that was an association between ABO blood group and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) levels (p = 6.8×10−40), but this finding was not present when TNF-alpha was measured using a different assay , or in a second study, suggesting an assay-specific association. Our results show that protein levels share some of the features of the genetics of gene expression. These include the presence of strong genetic effects in cis locations. The identification of protein quantitative trait loci (pQTLs) may be a powerful complementary method of improving our understanding of disease pathways.
Author Summary
One of the central dogmas of molecular genetics is that DNA is transcribed to RNA which is translated to protein and alterations to proteins can influence human diseases. Genome-wide association studies have recently revealed many new DNA variants that influence human diseases. To complement these efforts, several genome-wide studies have established that DNA variation influences mRNA expression levels. Loci influencing mRNA levels have been termed “eQTLs”. In this study we have performed the first genome-wide association study of the third piece in this jigsaw – the role of DNA variation in relation to protein levels, or “pQTLs”. We analysed 42 proteins measured in blood fractions from the InCHIANTI study. We identified eight cis effects including common variants in or near the IL6R, CCL4, IL18, LPA, GGT1, SHBG, CRP and IL1RN genes, all associated with blood levels of their respective protein products. Mechanisms implicated included altered transcription (GGT1) but also rates of cleavage of bound to unbound soluble receptor (IL6R), altered secretion rates of different sized proteins (LPA) and variation in gene copy number (CCL4). Blood levels of many of these proteins are correlated with human diseases and the identification of “pQTLs” may in turn help our understanding of disease.
PMCID: PMC2362067  PMID: 18464913

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