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1.  TCGA Expedition: A Data Acquisition and Management System for TCGA Data 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(10):e0165395.
The Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA) is a National Cancer Institute effort to profile at least 500 cases of 20 different tumor types using genomic platforms and to make these data, both raw and processed, available to all researchers. TCGA data are currently over 1.2 Petabyte in size and include whole genome sequence (WGS), whole exome sequence, methylation, RNA expression, proteomic, and clinical datasets. Publicly accessible TCGA data are released through public portals, but many challenges exist in navigating and using data obtained from these sites. We developed TCGA Expedition to support the research community focused on computational methods for cancer research. Data obtained, versioned, and archived using TCGA Expedition supports command line access at high-performance computing facilities as well as some functionality with third party tools. For a subset of TCGA data collected at University of Pittsburgh, we also re-associate TCGA data with de-identified data from the electronic health records. Here we describe the software as well as the architecture of our repository, methods for loading of TCGA data to multiple platforms, and security and regulatory controls that conform to federal best practices.
TCGA Expedition software consists of a set of scripts written in Bash, Python and Java that download, extract, harmonize, version and store all TCGA data and metadata. The software generates a versioned, participant- and sample-centered, local TCGA data directory with metadata structures that directly reference the local data files as well as the original data files. The software supports flexible searches of the data via a web portal, user-centric data tracking tools, and data provenance tools. Using this software, we created a collaborative repository, the Pittsburgh Genome Resource Repository (PGRR) that enabled investigators at our institution to work with all TCGA data formats, and to interrogate these data with analysis pipelines, and associated tools. WGS data are especially challenging for individual investigators to use, due to issues with downloading, storage, and processing; having locally accessible WGS BAM files has proven invaluable.
Our open-source, freely available TCGA Expedition software can be used to create a local collaborative infrastructure for acquiring, managing, and analyzing TCGA data and other large public datasets.
PMCID: PMC5082933  PMID: 27788220
2.  Functional Genomic Assessment of Phosgene-Induced Acute Lung Injury in Mice 
In this study, a genetically diverse panel of 43 mouse strains was exposed to phosgene and genome-wide association mapping performed using a high-density single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) assembly. Transcriptomic analysis was also used to improve the genetic resolution in the identification of genetic determinants of phosgene-induced acute lung injury (ALI). We prioritized the identified genes based on whether the encoded protein was previously associated with lung injury or contained a nonsynonymous SNP within a functional domain. Candidates were selected that contained a promoter SNP that could alter a putative transcription factor binding site and had variable expression by transcriptomic analyses. The latter two criteria also required that ≥10% of mice carried the minor allele and that this allele could account for ≥10% of the phenotypic difference noted between the strains at the phenotypic extremes. This integrative, functional approach revealed 14 candidate genes that included Atp1a1, Alox5, Galnt11, Hrh1, Mbd4, Phactr2, Plxnd1, Ptprt, Reln, and Zfand4, which had significant SNP associations, and Itga9, Man1a2, Mapk14, and Vwf, which had suggestive SNP associations. Of the genes with significant SNP associations, Atp1a1, Alox5, Plxnd1, Ptprt, and Zfand4 could be associated with ALI in several ways. Using a competitive electrophoretic mobility shift analysis, Atp1a1 promoter (rs215053185) oligonucleotide containing the minor G allele formed a major distinct faster-migrating complex. In addition, a gene with a suggestive SNP association, Itga9, is linked to transforming growth factor β1 signaling, which previously has been associated with the susceptibility to ALI in mice.
PMCID: PMC3824050  PMID: 23590305
ARDS; countermeasures; genetics; sodium absorption; lipoxygenase
3.  Mouse Alopecia Areata and Heart Disease: Know Your Mouse! 
PMCID: PMC3825791  PMID: 23774530
Dystrophic cardiac calcinosis; epicardial mineralization and fibrosis; alopecia areata
4.  Alopecia areata: updates from the mouse perspective 
Alopecia areata (AA) is a cell mediated autoimmune disease that targets actively growing hair follicles in mammals, including humans and mice. Development of the C3H/HeJ spontaneous mouse model AA nearly 20 years ago provided a much needed tool to test hypotheses and ultimately serve as a preclinical model for drug testing. Discoveries in both human AA patients and the mouse model supported each other and lead to discoveries on the incredibly complex genetic basis of this disease. The discovery that A/J, MRL/MpJ, SJL/J, and SWR/J strains also develop AA now allows genome wide association mapping studies to expand the list of genes underlying this disease. Potential new targets for unraveling the pathogenesis of AA include the role of retinoic acid metabolism in the severity of disease and hair shaft proteins that may be either the inciting antigen or ultimate target of the immune reaction leading to breakage of the shaft causing clinical alopecia. Comparing these model systems with human and mouse clinical disease, for both discovery and validation of the discoveries, continues to resolve the complex questions surrounding AA.
PMCID: PMC4071566  PMID: 24326543
vitamin A; C3H/HeJ mice; genetics; mouse models
6.  Mouse Models for Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum: Genetic and Dietary Modulation of the Ectopic Mineralization Phenotypes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89268.
Pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), a heritable ectopic mineralization disorder, is caused by mutations in the ABCC6 gene. Null mice (Abcc6−/−) recapitulate the genetic, histopathologic and ultrastructural features of PXE, and they demonstrate early and progressive mineralization of vibrissae dermal sheath, which serves as a biomarker of the overall mineralization process. Recently, as part of a mouse aging study at The Jackson Laboratory, 31 inbred mouse strains were necropsied, and two of them, KK/HlJ and 129S1/SvImJ, were noted to have vibrissae dermal mineralization similar to Abcc6−/− mice. These two strains were shown to harbor a single nucleotide polymorphism (rs32756904) in the Abcc6 gene, which resulted in out-of-frame splicing and marked reduction in ABCC6 protein expression in the liver of these mice. The same polymorphism is present in two additional mouse strains, DBA/2J and C3H/HeJ, with similar reduction in Abcc6 protein levels, yet these mice did not demonstrate tissue mineralization when kept on standard rodent diet. However, all four mouse strains, when placed on experimental diet enriched in phosphate and low in magnesium, developed extensive ectopic mineralization. These results indicate that the genetic background of mice and the mineral composition of their diet can profoundly modulate the ectopic mineralization process predicated on mutations in the Abcc6 gene. These mice provide novel model systems to study the pathomechanisms and the reasons for strain background on phenotypic variability of PXE.
PMCID: PMC3929712  PMID: 24586646
7.  A major X-linked locus affects kidney function in mice 
Molecular genetics and genomics : MGG  2012;287(11-12):845-854.
Chronic kidney disease is a common disease with increasing prevalence in the western population. One common reason for chronic kidney failure is diabetic nephropathy. Diabetic nephropathy and hyperglycemia are characteristics of the mouse inbred strain KK/HlJ, which is predominantly used as a model for metabolic syndrome due to its inherited glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. We used KK/HlJ, an albuminuria-sensitive strain, and C57BL/6J, an albuminuria-resistant strain, to perform a quantitative trait locus (QTL) cross to identify the genetic basis for chronic kidney failure. Albumin-creatinine-ratio (ACR) was measured in 130 F2 male offspring. One significant QTL was identified on chromosome (Chr) X and four suggestive QTLs were found on Chrs 6, 7, 12, and 13. Narrowing of the QTL region was focused on the X-linked QTL and performed by incorporating genotype and expression analyses for genes located in the region. From the 485 genes identified in the X-linked QTL region, a few candidate genes were identified using a combination of bioinformatic evidence based on genomic comparison of the parental strains and known function in urine homeostasis. Finally, this study demonstrates the significance of the X chromosome in the genetic determination of albuminuria.
PMCID: PMC3508201  PMID: 23011808
chronic kidney failure; QTL; genetic cross; ACR; diabetic nephropathy
8.  Mutant Enpp1asj mice as a model for generalized arterial calcification of infancy 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2013;6(5):1227-1235.
Generalized arterial calcification of infancy (GACI), an autosomal recessive disorder, is characterized by early mineralization of blood vessels, often diagnosed by prenatal ultrasound and usually resulting in demise during the first year of life. It is caused in most cases by mutations in the ENPP1 gene, encoding an enzyme that hydrolyzes ATP to AMP and inorganic pyrophosphate, the latter being a powerful anti-mineralization factor. Recently, a novel mouse phenotype was recognized as a result of ENU mutagenesis – those mice developed stiffening of the joints, hence the mutant mouse was named ‘ages with stiffened joints’ (asj). These mice harbor a missense mutation, p.V246D, in the Enpp1 gene. Here we demonstrate that the mutant ENPP1 protein is largely absent in the liver of asj mice, and the lack of enzymatic activity results in reduced inorganic pyrophosphate (PPi) levels in the plasma, accompanied by extensive mineralization of a number of tissues, including arterial blood vessels. The progress of mineralization is highly dependent on the mineral composition of the diet, with significant shortening of the lifespan on a diet enriched in phosphorus and low in magnesium. These results suggest that the asj mouse can serve as an animal model for GACI.
PMCID: PMC3759342  PMID: 23798568
9.  Integrative Assessment of Chlorine-Induced Acute Lung Injury in Mice 
The genetic basis for the underlying individual susceptibility to chlorine-induced acute lung injury is unknown. To uncover the genetic basis and pathophysiological processes that could provide additional homeostatic capacities during lung injury, 40 inbred murine strains were exposed to chlorine, and haplotype association mapping was performed. The identified single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) associations were evaluated through transcriptomic and metabolomic profiling. Using ≥ 10% allelic frequency and ≥ 10% phenotype explained as threshold criteria, promoter SNPs that could eliminate putative transcriptional factor recognition sites in candidate genes were assessed by determining transcript levels through microarray and reverse real-time PCR during chlorine exposure. The mean survival time varied by approximately 5-fold among strains, and SNP associations were identified for 13 candidate genes on chromosomes 1, 4, 5, 9, and 15. Microarrays revealed several differentially enriched pathways, including protein transport (decreased more in the sensitive C57BLKS/J lung) and protein catabolic process (increased more in the resistant C57BL/10J lung). Lung metabolomic profiling revealed 95 of the 280 metabolites measured were altered by chlorine exposure, and included alanine, which decreased more in the C57BLKS/J than in the C57BL/10J strain, and glutamine, which increased more in the C57BL/10J than in the C57BLKS/J strain. Genetic associations from haplotype mapping were strengthened by an integrated assessment using transcriptomic and metabolomic profiling. The leading candidate genes associated with increased susceptibility to acute lung injury in mice included Klf4, Sema7a, Tns1, Aacs, and a gene that encodes an amino acid carrier, Slc38a4.
PMCID: PMC3423464  PMID: 22447970
ARDS; countermeasures; glutamine; genetics; metabolomics
10.  Integration of Mouse and Human Genome-Wide Association Data Identifies KCNIP4 as an Asthma Gene 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56179.
Asthma is a common chronic respiratory disease characterized by airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR). The genetics of asthma have been widely studied in mouse and human, and homologous genomic regions have been associated with mouse AHR and human asthma-related phenotypes. Our goal was to identify asthma-related genes by integrating AHR associations in mouse with human genome-wide association study (GWAS) data. We used Efficient Mixed Model Association (EMMA) analysis to conduct a GWAS of baseline AHR measures from males and females of 31 mouse strains. Genes near or containing SNPs with EMMA p-values <0.001 were selected for further study in human GWAS. The results of the previously reported EVE consortium asthma GWAS meta-analysis consisting of 12,958 diverse North American subjects from 9 study centers were used to select a subset of homologous genes with evidence of association with asthma in humans. Following validation attempts in three human asthma GWAS (i.e., Sepracor/LOCCS/LODO/Illumina, GABRIEL, DAG) and two human AHR GWAS (i.e., SHARP, DAG), the Kv channel interacting protein 4 (KCNIP4) gene was identified as nominally associated with both asthma and AHR at a gene- and SNP-level. In EVE, the smallest KCNIP4 association was at rs6833065 (P-value 2.9e-04), while the strongest associations for Sepracor/LOCCS/LODO/Illumina, GABRIEL, DAG were 1.5e-03, 1.0e-03, 3.1e-03 at rs7664617, rs4697177, rs4696975, respectively. At a SNP level, the strongest association across all asthma GWAS was at rs4697177 (P-value 1.1e-04). The smallest P-values for association with AHR were 2.3e-03 at rs11947661 in SHARP and 2.1e-03 at rs402802 in DAG. Functional studies are required to validate the potential involvement of KCNIP4 in modulating asthma susceptibility and/or AHR. Our results suggest that a useful approach to identify genes associated with human asthma is to leverage mouse AHR association data.
PMCID: PMC3572953  PMID: 23457522
11.  Emerging genetics of COPD 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2012;4(11):1144-1155.
Since the discovery of alpha-1 antitrypsin in the early 1960s, several new genes have been suggested to play a role in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) pathogenesis. Yet, in spite of those advances, much about the genetic basis of COPD still remains to be discovered. Unbiased approaches, such as genome-wide association (GWA) studies, are critical to identify genes and pathways and to verify suggested genetic variants. Indeed, most of our current understanding about COPD candidate genes originates from GWA studies. Experiments in form of cross-study replications and advanced meta-analyses have propelled the field towards unravelling details about COPD's pathogenesis. Here, we review the discovery of genetic variants in association with COPD phenotypes by discussing the available approaches and current findings. Limitations of current studies are considered and future directions provided.
PMCID: PMC3494872  PMID: 23090857
COPD; genes; genetics; genome-wide association studies; obstructive pulmonary disease
12.  Identification of Fat4 and Tsc22d1 as novel candidate genes for spontaneous pulmonary adenomas 
Cancer research  2011;71(17):5779-5791.
Genetic influences that underlie spontaneous lung oncogenesis are poorly understood. The objective of this study was to determine the genetic influences on spontaneous pulmonary adenoma frequency and severity in 28 strains of mice as part of a large-scale aging study conducted at the Jackson Aging Center ( Genome-wide association studies were performed in these strains with both low-density (132,000) and high-density (4,000,000) panel of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Our analysis revealed that adenomas were relatively less frequent and less severe in females than males, and that loci implicated in frequency and severity were often different between male and female mice. While some of the significant loci identified mapped to genomic locations known to be responsible for carcinogen-induced cancers (e.g., Pas1), others were unique to our study. In particular, Fat4 was influential in males and Tsc22d1 was influential in females. SNPs implicated were predicted to alter amino acid sequence and change protein function. In summary, our results suggested that genetic influences that underlie pulmonary adenoma frequency are dependent on gender, and that Fat4 and Tsc22d1 are likely candidate genes to influence formation of spontaneous pulmonary adenoma in aging male and female mice, respectively.
PMCID: PMC3165088  PMID: 21764761
genetics; aging mice; Fat4; Tsc22d1; lung cancer; strain survey; tumor suppressor; Jackson Aging Center
13.  c-Kit Is Essential for Alveolar Maintenance and Protection from Emphysema-like Disease in Mice 
Rationale: Previously, we demonstrated a candidate region for susceptibility to airspace enlargement on mouse chromosome 5. However, the specific candidate genes within this region accounting for emphysema-like changes remain unrecognized. c-Kit is a receptor tyrosine kinase within this candidate gene region that has previously been recognized to contribute to the survival, proliferation, and differentiation of hematopoietic stem cells. Increases in the percentage of cells expressing c-Kit have previously been associated with protection against injury-induced emphysema.
Objectives: Determine whether genetic variants of c-Kit are associated with spontaneous airspace enlargement.
Methods: Perform single-nucleotide polymorphism association studies in the mouse strains at the extremes of airspace enlargement phenotype for variants in c-Kit tyrosine kinase. Characterize mice bearing functional variants of c-Kit compared with wild-type controls for the development of spontaneous airspace enlargement. Epithelial cell proliferation was measured in culture.
Measurements and Main Results: Upstream regulatory single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the divergent mouse strains were associated with the lung compliance difference observed between the extreme strains. c-Kit mutant mice (KitW-sh/W-sh), when compared with genetic controls, developed altered lung histology, increased total lung capacity, increased residual volume, and increased lung compliance that persist into adulthood. c-Kit inhibition with imatinib attenuated in vitro proliferation of cells expressing epithelial cell adhesion molecule.
Conclusions: Our findings indicate that c-Kit sustains and/or maintains normal alveolar architecture in the lungs of mice. In vitro data suggest that c-Kit can regulate epithelial cell clonal expansion. The precise mechanisms that c-Kit contributes to the development of airspace enlargement and increased lung compliance remain unclear and warrants further investigation.
PMCID: PMC3136992  PMID: 21471107
genetic; tyrosine kinase; SASH; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; aging
14.  Haplotype Association Mapping of Acute Lung Injury in Mice Implicates Activin A Receptor, Type 1 
Rationale: Because acute lung injury is a sporadic disease produced by heterogeneous precipitating factors, previous genetic analyses are mainly limited to candidate gene case-control studies.
Objectives: To develop a genome-wide strategy in which single nucleotide polymorphism associations are assessed for functional consequences to survival during acute lung injury in mice.
Methods: To identify genes associated with acute lung injury, 40 inbred strains were exposed to acrolein and haplotype association mapping, microarray, and DNA-protein binding were assessed.
Measurements and Main Results: The mean survival time varied among mouse strains with polar strains differing approximately 2.5-fold. Associations were identified on chromosomes 1, 2, 4, 11, and 12. Seven genes (Acvr1, Cacnb4, Ccdc148, Galnt13, Rfwd2, Rpap2, and Tgfbr3) had single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) associations within the gene. Because SNP associations may encompass “blocks” of associated variants, functional assessment was performed in 91 genes within ± 1 Mbp of each SNP association. Using 10% or greater allelic frequency and 10% or greater phenotype explained as threshold criteria, 16 genes were assessed by microarray and reverse real-time polymerase chain reaction. Microarray revealed several enriched pathways including transforming growth factor-β signaling. Transcripts for Acvr1, Arhgap15, Cacybp, Rfwd2, and Tgfbr3 differed between the strains with exposure and contained SNPs that could eliminate putative transcriptional factor recognition sites. Ccdc148, Fancl, and Tnn had sequence differences that could produce an amino acid substitution. Mycn and Mgat4a had a promoter SNP or 3′untranslated region SNPs, respectively. Several genes were related and encoded receptors (ACVR1, TGFBR3), transcription factors (MYCN, possibly CCDC148), and ubiquitin-proteasome (RFWD2, FANCL, CACYBP) proteins that can modulate cell signaling. An Acvr1 SNP eliminated a putative ELK1 binding site and diminished DNA–protein binding.
Conclusions: Assessment of genetic associations can be strengthened using a genetic/genomic approach. This approach identified several candidate genes, including Acvr1, associated with increased susceptibility to acute lung injury in mice.
PMCID: PMC3137140  PMID: 21297076
acute respiratory distress syndrome; smoke inhalation; carboxyl stress; transforming growth factor-&beta signaling; ubiquitination
15.  Genetic analysis of lung function in inbred mice suggests vitamin D receptor as a candidate gene 
Molecular Genetics and Genomics  2011;286(3-4):237-246.
Vitamin D receptor (VDR) polymorphisms are associated with an increased asthma incidence in human populations; however, observations in Vdr knockout mice are unclear. The aim of our study was to determine the influence of the genetic variation in Vdr among inbred strains on lung resistance (i.e., dynamic and airway resistance). In an intercross between the strains C57BL/6J (B6) and KK/HlJ (KK), we identified that a significant QTL for dynamic resistance on Chr X was interacting with a QTL on Chr 15. The Chr 15 QTL peak was located in close proximity to the Vdr locus. We further examined if phenotypes of several inbred strains with varying Vdr genotypes differed. Strains with a B6-like genotype on the Vdr locus had significantly lower airway resistance than strains with a KK-like genotype. Vdr knockout mice were examined for dynamic resistance and showed significantly higher resistance than mice with one (i.e., heterozygous) or both copies (i.e., wild-type) of the Vdr. In comparison to B6, the strain A/J is more resistant but carries the same genotype at the Vdr locus. Dietary vitamin D manipulation in the strain A/J did not rescue the high airway resistance phenotype. Finally, we observed that serum vitamin D does not correlate significantly with lung resistance parameters in a survey of 18 strains. Conclusively, Vdr contributes to the phenotypic variation of lung resistance in inbred mice but other molecules in the Vdr pathway and extended network [i.e., Chr X gene(s)] may contribute as well.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00438-011-0642-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3175031  PMID: 21850575
Airway responsiveness; Vitamin D receptor; Vdr; QTL mapping; Asthma; Genetics; Dietary vitamin D manipulation; KK/HlJ
16.  The mouse as a model for understanding chronic diseases of aging: the histopathologic basis of aging in inbred mice 
Pathobiology of Aging & Age Related Diseases  2011;1:10.3402/pba.v1i0.7179.
Inbred mice provide a unique tool to study aging populations because of the genetic homogeneity within an inbred strain, their short life span, and the tools for analysis which are available. A large-scale longitudinal and cross-sectional aging study was conducted on 30 inbred strains to determine, using histopathology, the type and diversity of diseases mice develop as they age. These data provide tools that when linked with modern in silico genetic mapping tools, can begin to unravel the complex genetics of many of the common chronic diseases associated with aging in humans and other mammals. In addition, novel disease models were discovered in some strains, such as rhabdomyosarcoma in old A/J mice, to diseases affecting many but not all strains including pseudoxanthoma elasticum, pulmonary adenoma, alopecia areata, and many others. This extensive data set is now available online and provides a useful tool to help better understand strain-specific background diseases that can complicate interpretation of genetically engineered mice and other manipulatable mouse studies that utilize these strains.
PMCID: PMC3417678  PMID: 22953031
pseudoxanthoma elasticum; rhabdomyosarcoma; MoDIS; The Jackson Aging Center; pulmonary adenoma
17.  A survey of airway responsiveness in 36 inbred mouse strains facilitates gene mapping studies and identification of quantitative trait loci 
Airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR) is a critical phenotype of human asthma and animal models of asthma. Other studies have measured AHR in nine mouse strains, but only six strains have been used to identify genetic loci underlying AHR. Our goals were to increase the genetic diversity of available strains by surveying 27 additional strains, to apply haplotype association mapping to the 36-strain survey, and to identify new genetic determinants for AHR. We derived AHR from the increase in airway resistance in females subjected to increasing levels of methacholine concentrations. We used haplotype association mapping to identify associations between AHR and haplotypes on chromosomes 3, 5, 8, 12, 13, and 14. And we used bioinformatics techniques to narrow the identified region on chromosome 13, reducing the region to 29 candidate genes, with 11 of considerable interest. Our combined use of haplotype association mapping with bioinformatics tools is the first study of its kind for AHR on these 36 strains of mice. Our analyses have narrowed the possible QTL genes and will facilitate the discovery of novel genes that regulate AHR in mice.
PMCID: PMC2885868  PMID: 20143096
Mice; Genetics; Asthma

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