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1.  Whole Genome SNP Genotyping and Exome Sequencing Reveal Novel Genetic Variants and Putative Causative Genes in Congenital Hyperinsulinism 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68740.
Congenital hyperinsulinism of infancy (CHI) is a rare disorder characterized by severe hypoglycemia due to inappropriate insulin secretion. The genetic causes of CHI have been found in genes regulating insulin secretion from pancreatic β-cells; recessive inactivating mutations in the ABCC8 and KCNJ11 genes represent the most common events. Despite the advances in understanding the molecular pathogenesis of CHI, specific genetic determinants in about 50 % of the CHI patients remain unknown, suggesting additional locus heterogeneity. In order to search for novel loci contributing to the pathogenesis of CHI, we combined a family-based association study, using the transmission disequilibrium test on 17 CHI patients lacking mutations in ABCC8/KCNJ11, with a whole-exome sequencing analysis performed on 10 probands. This strategy allowed the identification of the potential causative mutations in genes implicated in the regulation of insulin secretion such as transmembrane proteins (CACNA1A, KCNH6, KCNJ10, NOTCH2, RYR3, SCN8A, TRPV3, TRPC5), cytosolic (ACACB, CAMK2D, CDKAL1, GNAS, NOS2, PDE4C, PIK3R3) and mitochondrial enzymes (PC, SLC24A6), and in four genes (CSMD1, SLC37A3, SULF1, TLL1) suggested by TDT family-based association study. Moreover, the exome-sequencing approach resulted to be an efficient diagnostic tool for CHI, allowing the identification of mutations in three causative CHI genes (ABCC8, GLUD1, and HNF1A) in four out of 10 patients. Overall, the present study should be considered as a starting point to design further investigations: our results might indeed contribute to meta-analysis studies, aimed at the identification/confirmation of novel causative or modifier genes.
PMCID: PMC3711910  PMID: 23869231
2.  Dual Role of G-runs and hnRNP F in the Regulation of a Mutation-Activated Pseudoexon in the Fibrinogen Gamma-Chain Transcript 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e59333.
Most pathological pseudoexon inclusion events originate from single activating mutations, suggesting that many intronic sequences are on the verge of becoming exons. However, the precise mechanisms controlling pseudoexon definition are still largely unexplored. Here, we investigated the cis-acting elements and trans-acting regulatory factors contributing to the regulation of a previously described fibrinogen gamma-chain (FGG) pseudoexon, which is activated by a deep-intronic mutation (IVS6-320A>T). This pseudoexon contains several G-run elements, which may be bound by heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNPs) F and H. To explore the effect of these proteins on FGG pseudoexon inclusion, both silencing and overexpression experiments were performed in eukaryotic cells. While hnRNP H did not significantly affect pseudoexon splicing, hnRNP F promoted pseudoexon inclusion, indicating that these two proteins have only partially redundant functions. To verify the binding of hnRNP F and the possible involvement of other trans-acting splicing modulators, pulldown experiments were performed on the region of the pseudoexon characterized by both a G-run and enrichment for exonic splicing enhancers. This 25-bp-long region strongly binds hnRNP F/H and weakly interacts with Serine/Arginine-rich protein 40, which however was demonstrated to be dispensable for FGG pseudoexon inclusion in overexpression experiments. Deletion analysis, besides confirming the splicing-promoting role of the G-run within this 25-bp region, demonstrated that two additional hnRNP F binding sites might instead function as silencer elements. Taken together, our results indicate a major role of hnRNP F in regulating FGG pseudoexon inclusion, and strengthen the notion that G-runs may function either as splicing enhancers or silencers of the same exon.
PMCID: PMC3606458  PMID: 23533617
3.  Polymorphisms in the genes coding for iron binding and transporting proteins are associated with disability, severity, and early progression in multiple sclerosis 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:70.
Iron involvement/imbalance is strongly suspected in multiple sclerosis (MS) etiopathogenesis, but its role is quite debated. Iron deposits encircle the veins in brain MS lesions, increasing local metal concentrations in brain parenchyma as documented by magnetic resonance imaging and histochemical studies. Conversely, systemic iron overload is not always observed. We explored the role of common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the main iron homeostasis genes in MS patients.
By the pyrosequencing technique, we investigated 414 MS cases [Relapsing-remitting (RR), n=273; Progressive, n=141, of which: Secondary (SP), n=103 and Primary (PP), n=38], and 414 matched healthy controls. Five SNPs in 4 genes were assessed: hemochromatosis (HFE: C282Y, H63D), ferroportin (FPN1: -8CG), hepcidin (HEPC: -582AG), and transferrin (TF: P570S).
The FPN1-8GG genotype was overrepresented in the whole MS population (OR=4.38; 95%CI, 1.89-10.1; P<0.0001) and a similar risk was found among patients with progressive forms. Conversely, the HEPC -582GG genotype was overrepresented only in progressive forms (OR=2.53; 95%CI, 1.34-4.78; P=0.006) so that SP and PP versus RR yielded significant outputs (P=0.009). For almost all SNPs, MS disability score (EDSS), severity score (MSSS), as well as progression index (PI) showed a significant increase when comparing homozygotes versus individuals carrying other genotypes: HEPC -582GG (EDSS, 4.24±2.87 vs 2.78±2.1; P=0.003; MSSS, 5.6±3.06 vs 3.79±2.6; P=0.001); FPN1-8GG (PI, 1.11±2.01 vs 0.6±1.31; P=0.01; MSSS, 5.08±2.98 vs 3.85±2.8; P=0.01); HFE 63DD (PI, 1.63±2.6 vs 0.6±0.86; P=0.009). Finally, HEPC -582G-carriers had a significantly higher chance to switch into the progressive form (HR=3.55; 1.83-6.84; log-rank P=0.00006).
Polymorphisms in the genes coding for iron binding and transporting proteins, in the presence of local iron overload, might be responsible for suboptimal iron handling. This might account for the significant variability peculiar to MS phenotypes, particularly affecting MS risk and progression paving the way for personalized pharmacogenetic applications in the clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC3490944  PMID: 22883388
4.  SNCA and MAPT genes: Independent and joint effects in Parkinson disease in the Italian population 
Parkinsonism & Related Disorders  2012;18-135(3-3):257-262.
Significant efforts have been focused on investigating the contribution of common variants to Parkinson disease (PD) risk. Several independent GWAS and metanalysis studies have shown a genome-wide significant association of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the α-synuclein (SNCA) and microtubule-associated protein tau (MAPT) regions. Here we investigated the role of SNCA and MAPT as PD susceptibility genes in a large Italian population of 904 patients and 891 controls. An evaluation of gene–gene and gene-environment interactions in association with PD was also attempted.
The SNCA Rep1 microsatellite was genotyped by a fluorescent PCR assay, whereas the SNPlex genotyping system was used to genotype 12 additional markers across the SNCA gene, and 2 SNPs tagging the risk MAPT H1 haplotype.
Single-marker analysis demonstrated nominal evidence of association for: i) the 261-bp-long allele of Rep1; ii) 7 SNPs in the SNCA region (top SNP: rs356186, P = 3.08 × 10−04, intron 4); iii) both SNPs identifying the MAPT H1 haplotype (P = 4.63 × 10−04 and P = 4.23 × 10−04 for rs1800547 and rs9468, respectively). Moreover, we found a highly significant protective haplotype spanning ∼83 kb from intron 4 to the 3′ end of SNCA (P = 1.29 × 10−05).
Our findings strongly confirm SNCA and MAPT as major PD susceptibility genes for idiopathic PD in the Italian population. Interaction analyses did not evidence either epistatic effects between the two loci or gene-environment interactions.
PMCID: PMC3314966  PMID: 22104010
Parkinson disease; SNCA; MAPT; Association study
5.  A Functional Variant in ERAP1 Predisposes to Multiple Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29931.
The ERAP1 gene encodes an aminopeptidase involved in antigen processing. A functional polymorphism in the gene (rs30187, Arg528Lys) associates with susceptibility to ankylosying spondylitis (AS), whereas a SNP in the interacting ERAP2 gene increases susceptibility to another inflammatory autoimmune disorder, Crohn's disease (CD). We analysed rs30187 in 572 Italian patients with CD and in 517 subjects suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS); for each cohort, an independent sex- and age-matched control group was genotyped. The frequency of the 528Arg allele was significantly higher in both disease cohorts compared to the respective control population (for CD, OR = 1.20 95%CI: 1.01–1.43, p = 0.036; for RRMS, OR = 1.26; 95%CI: 1.04–1.51, p = 0.01). Meta-analysis with the Wellcome Trust Cases Control Consortium GWAS data confirmed the association with MS (pmeta = 0.005), but not with CD. In AS, the rs30187 variant has a predisposing effect only in an HLA-B27 allelic background. It remains to be evaluated whether interaction between ERAP1 and distinct HLA class I alleles also affects the predisposition to MS, and explains the failure to provide definitive evidence for a role of rs30187 in CD. Results herein support the emerging concept that a subset of master-regulatory genes underlay the pathogenesis of autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC3257233  PMID: 22253828
6.  A novel mutation within the MIR96 gene causes non-syndromic inherited hearing loss in an Italian family by altering pre-miRNA processing 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;21(3):577-585.
The miR-96, miR-182 and miR-183 microRNA (miRNA) family is essential for differentiation and function of the vertebrate inner ear. Recently, point mutations within the seed region of miR-96 were reported in two Spanish families with autosomal dominant non-syndromic sensorineural hearing loss (NSHL) and in a mouse model of NSHL. We screened 882 NSHL patients and 836 normal-hearing Italian controls and identified one putative novel mutation within the miR-96 gene in a family with autosomal dominant NSHL. Although located outside the mature miR-96 sequence, the detected variant replaces a highly conserved nucleotide within the companion miR-96*, and is predicted to reduce the stability of the pre-miRNA hairpin. To evaluate the effect of the detected mutation on miR-96/mir-96* biogenesis, we investigated the maturation of miR-96 by transient expression in mammalian cells, followed by real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (PCR). We found that both miR-96 and miR-96* levels were significantly reduced in the mutant, whereas the precursor levels were unaffected. Moreover, miR-96 and miR-96* expression levels could be restored by a compensatory mutation that reconstitutes the secondary structure of the pre-miR-96 hairpin, demonstrating that the mutation hinders precursor processing, probably interfering with Dicer cleavage. Finally, even though the mature miR-96 sequence is not altered, we demonstrated that the identified mutation significantly impacts on miR-96 regulation of selected targets. In conclusion, we provide further evidence of the involvement of miR-96 mutations in human deafness and demonstrate that a quantitative defect of this miRNA may contribute to NSHL.
PMCID: PMC3259013  PMID: 22038834
7.  Genetic Association and Altered Gene Expression of Mir-155 in Multiple Sclerosis Patients 
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex autoimmune disease of the central nervous system characterized by chronic inflammation, demyelination, and axonal damage. As microRNA (miRNA)-dependent alterations in gene expression in hematopoietic cells are critical for mounting an appropriate immune response, miRNA deregulation may result in defects in immune tolerance. In this frame, we sought to explore the possible involvement of miRNAs in MS pathogenesis by monitoring the differential expression of 22 immunity-related miRNAs in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of MS patients and healthy controls, by using a microbead-based technology. Three miRNAs resulted >2 folds up-regulated in MS vs controls, whereas none resulted down-regulated. Interestingly, the most up-regulated miRNA (mir-155; fold change = 3.30; P = 0.013) was previously reported to be up-regulated also in MS brain lesions. Mir-155 up-regulation was confirmed by qPCR experiments. The role of mir-155 in MS susceptibility was also investigated by genotyping four single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) mapping in the mir-155 genomic region. A haplotype of three SNPs, corresponding to a 12-kb region encompassing the last exon of BIC (the B-cell Integration Cluster non-coding RNA, from which mir-155 is processed), resulted associated with the disease status (P = 0.035; OR = 1.36, 95% CI = 1.05–1.77), suggesting that this locus strongly deserves further investigations.
PMCID: PMC3257096  PMID: 22272099
multiple sclerosis; miRNA; expression profile; mir-155; association analysis
8.  PRKCA and Multiple Sclerosis: Association in Two Independent Populations 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(3):e42.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system responsible for a large portion of neurological disabilities in young adults. Similar to what occurs in numerous complex diseases, both unknown environmental factors and genetic predisposition are required to generate MS. We ascertained a set of 63 Finnish MS families, originating from a high-risk region of the country, to identify a susceptibility gene within the previously established 3.4-Mb region on 17q24. Initial single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based association implicated PRKCA (protein kinase C alpha) gene, and this association was replicated in an independent set of 148 Finnish MS families (p = 0.0004; remaining significant after correction for multiple testing). Further, a dense set of 211 SNPs evenly covering the PRKCA gene and the flanking regions was selected from the dbSNP database and analyzed in two large, independent MS cohorts: in 211 Finnish and 554 Canadian MS families. A multipoint SNP analysis indicated linkage to PRKCA and its telomeric flanking region in both populations, and SNP haplotype and genotype combination analyses revealed an allelic variant of PRKCA, which covers the region between introns 3 and 8, to be over-represented in Finnish MS cases (odds ratio = 1.34, 95% confidence interval 1.07–1.68). A second allelic variant, covering the same region of the PRKCA gene, showed somewhat stronger evidence for association in the Canadian families (odds ratio = 1.64, 95% confidence interval 1.39–1.94). Initial functional relevance for disease predisposition was suggested by the expression analysis: The transcript levels of PRKCA showed correlation with the copy number of the Finnish and Canadian “risk” haplotypes in CD4-negative mononuclear cells of five Finnish multiplex families and in lymphoblast cell lines of 11 Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH) individuals of European origin.
Complex diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) likely result from problems in networks of interactions between several genes and largely unidentified environmental and lifestyle factors. Identification of MS-specific genes has been challenging. HLA-DRB1*15 is the only consistent locus observed in most populations; however, the recent genome scan on more than 700 European families implicated 17q as a second-best MS locus [12]. Since MS families from the high-risk region of Finland initially revealed linkage to 17q, the authors used the regionally ascertained set of 63 families to identify a MS predisposing gene within a major non–HLA locus on 17q. The initial association was observed with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) located in intron 3 of the PRKCA (protein kinase C alpha) gene in Finnish MS families and replicated in an independent set of 148 MS families from Finland and 554 from Canada, two populations with a different genetic background. Combining the data of two SNP variants revealed two allele combinations of PRKCA, which were over-represented in Finnish or Canadian MS cases (odds ratio = 1.34, 95% confidence interval, 1.07–1.68, and odds ratio = 1.64, 95% confidence interval 1.39–1.94, respectively). Linkage and association of the PRKCA gene, encoding a regulator of immune responses, in two populations imply its involvement in the etiology of MS.
PMCID: PMC1420678  PMID: 16596167

Results 1-8 (8)