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1.  The Impact of Nutrition on Differential Methylated Regions of the Genome1 
Advances in Nutrition  2011;2(6):463-471.
Nutrition has always played an important role in health and disease, ranging from common diseases to its likely contribution to the fetal origins of adult disease. However, deciphering the molecular details of this role is much more challenging. The impact of nutrition on the methylome, i.e., DNA methylation, has received particular attention in more recent years. Our understanding of the complexity of the methylome is evolving as efforts to catalog the DNA methylation differences that exist between different tissues and individuals continue. We review selected examples of animal and human studies that provide evidence that, in fact, specific genes and DNA methylation sites are subject to change during development and during a lifetime as a direct response to nutrition. Investigation of the methyl donors folate, choline, and methionine provide the most compelling evidence of a role in mediating DNA methylation changes. Although a number of candidate regions/genes have been identified to date, we are just at the beginning in terms of cataloging so-called nutrient-sensitive methylation variable positions in humans.
doi:10.3945/an.111.001008
PMCID: PMC3226384  PMID: 22332089
2.  Evaluation of common genetic variants in 82 candidate genes as risk factors for neural tube defects 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:62.
Background
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common birth defects (~1 in 1000 pregnancies in the US and Europe) that have complex origins, including environmental and genetic factors. A low level of maternal folate is one well-established risk factor, with maternal periconceptional folic acid supplementation reducing the occurrence of NTD pregnancies by 50-70%. Gene variants in the folate metabolic pathway (e.g., MTHFR rs1801133 (677 C > T) and MTHFD1 rs2236225 (R653Q)) have been found to increase NTD risk. We hypothesized that variants in additional folate/B12 pathway genes contribute to NTD risk.
Methods
A tagSNP approach was used to screen common variation in 82 candidate genes selected from the folate/B12 pathway and NTD mouse models. We initially genotyped polymorphisms in 320 Irish triads (NTD cases and their parents), including 301 cases and 341 Irish controls to perform case–control and family based association tests. Significantly associated polymorphisms were genotyped in a secondary set of 250 families that included 229 cases and 658 controls. The combined results for 1441 SNPs were used in a joint analysis to test for case and maternal effects.
Results
Nearly 70 SNPs in 30 genes were found to be associated with NTDs at the p < 0.01 level. The ten strongest association signals (p-value range: 0.0003–0.0023) were found in nine genes (MFTC, CDKN2A, ADA, PEMT, CUBN, GART, DNMT3A, MTHFD1 and T (Brachyury)) and included the known NTD risk factor MTHFD1 R653Q (rs2236225). The single strongest signal was observed in a new candidate, MFTC rs17803441 (OR = 1.61 [1.23-2.08], p = 0.0003 for the minor allele). Though nominally significant, these associations did not remain significant after correction for multiple hypothesis testing.
Conclusions
To our knowledge, with respect to sample size and scope of evaluation of candidate polymorphisms, this is the largest NTD genetic association study reported to date. The scale of the study and the stringency of correction are likely to have contributed to real associations failing to survive correction. We have produced a ranked list of variants with the strongest association signals. Variants in the highest rank of associations are likely to include true associations and should be high priority candidates for further study of NTD risk.
doi:10.1186/1471-2350-13-62
PMCID: PMC3458983  PMID: 22856873
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Folic acid; One-carbon metabolism; Candidate gene
3.  Genotyping of a tri-allelic polymorphism by a novel melting curve assay in MTHFD1L: an association study of nonsyndromic Cleft in Ireland 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:29.
Background
Polymorphisms within the MTHFD1L gene were previously associated with risk of neural tube defects in Ireland. We sought to test the most significant MTHFD1L polymorphisms for an association with risk of cleft in an Irish cohort. This required the development of a new melting curve assay to genotype the technically challenging MTHFD1L triallelic deletion/insertion polymorphism (rs3832406).
Methods
Melting curve analysis was used to genotype the MTHFD1L triallelic deletion/insertion polymorphism (rs3832406) and a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism rs17080476 in an Irish cohort consisting of 981 Irish case-parent trios and 1,008 controls. Tests for association with nonsyndromic cleft lip with or without cleft palate and cleft palate included case/control analysis, mother/control analysis and Transmission Disequilibrium Tests of case-parent trios.
Results
A successful melting curve genotyping assay was developed for the deletion/insertion polymorphism (rs3832406). The TDT analysis initially showed that the rs3832406 polymorphism was associated with isolated cleft lip with or without cleft palate. However, corrected p-values indicated that this association was not significant.
Conclusions
Melting Curve Analysis can be employed to successfully genotype challenging polymorphisms such as the MTHFD1L triallelic deletion/insertion polymorphism (DIP) reported here (rs3832406) and is a viable alternative to capillary electrophoresis. Corrected p-values indicate no association between MTHFD1L and risk of cleft in an Irish cohort.
doi:10.1186/1471-2350-13-29
PMCID: PMC3419639  PMID: 22520921
4.  DNA Methylation: A Timeline of Methods and Applications 
DNA methylation is a biochemical process where a DNA base, usually cytosine, is enzymatically methylated at the 5-carbon position. An epigenetic modification associated with gene regulation, DNA methylation is of paramount importance to biological health and disease. Recently, the quest to unravel the Human Epigenome commenced, calling for a modernization of previous DNA methylation profiling techniques. Here, we describe the major developments in the methodologies used over the past three decades to examine the elusive epigenome (or methylome). The earliest techniques were based on the separation of methylated and unmethylated cytosines via chromatography. The following years would see molecular techniques being employed to indirectly examine DNA methylation levels at both a genome-wide and locus-specific context, notably immunoprecipitation via anti-5′methylcytosine and selective digestion with methylation-sensitive restriction endonucleases. With the advent of sodium bisulfite treatment of DNA, a deamination reaction that converts cytosine to uracil only when unmethylated, the epigenetic modification can now be identified in the same manner as a DNA base-pair change. More recently, these three techniques have been applied to more technically advanced systems such as DNA microarrays and next-generation sequencing platforms, bringing us closer to unveiling a complete human epigenetic profile.
doi:10.3389/fgene.2011.00074
PMCID: PMC3268627  PMID: 22303369
DNA; methylation; bisulfite; sequencing; methods
5.  A Common Variant in MTHFD1L is Associated with Neural Tube Defects and mRNA Splicing Efficiency 
Human mutation  2009;30(12):1650-1656.
Polymorphisms in folate-related genes have emerged as important risk factors in a range of diseases including neural tube defects (NTDs), cancer and coronary artery disease (CAD). Having previously identified a polymorphism within the cytoplasmic folate enzyme, MTHFD1, as a maternal risk factor for NTDs; we considered the more recently identified mitochondrial paralogue, MTHFD1L as a candidate gene for NTD association. We identified a common deletion/insertion polymorphism, rs3832406, c.781-6823ATT(7-9), that influences splicing efficiency and is strongly associated with NTD risk. Three alleles of rs3832406 were detected in the Irish population with varying number of ATT repeats; Allele 1 consists of ATT7, while Alleles 2 and 3 consist of ATT8 and ATT9 respectively. Allele 2 of this triallelic polymorphism showed a decreased case risk as demonstrated by case-control logistic regression (P= 0.002) and by transmission disequilibrium test (TDT) (P= 0.001); while Allele 1 showed an increased case risk. Allele 3 showed no influence on NTD risk and represents the lowest frequency allele (0.15). Additional SNP genotyping in the same genomic region provides additional supportive evidence of an association. We demonstrate that two of the three alleles of rs3832406 are functionally different and influence the splicing efficiency of the alternate MTHFD1L mRNA transcripts.
doi:10.1002/humu.21109
PMCID: PMC2787683  PMID: 19777576
MTHFD1L; NTD; Splicing; Polymorphism; Association; Folate; Mitochondria
6.  Analysis of the MTHFD1 promoter and risk of neural tube defects 
Human genetics  2009;125(3):247-256.
Genetic variants in MTHFD1 (5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/ 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase/ 10-formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase), an important folate metabolic enzyme, are associated with a number of common diseases, including neural tube defects (NTDs). This study investigates the promoter of the human MTHFD1 gene in a bid to understand how this gene is controlled and regulated. Following a combination of in silico and molecular approaches, we report that MTHFD1 expression is controlled by a TATA-less, Initiator-less promoter and transcription is initiated at multiple start sites over a 126bp region. We confirmed the presence of three database polymorphisms (dbSNP) by direct sequencing of the upstream region (rs1076991 C>T, rs8010584 G>A, rs4243628 G>T), with a fourth (dbSNP rs746488 A>T) not found to be polymorphic in our population and no novel polymorphisms identified. We demonstrate that a common SNP rs1076991 C>T within the window of transcriptional initiation exerts a significant effect on promoter activity in vitro. We investigated this SNP as a potential risk factor for NTDs in a large homogenous Irish population and determined that it is not an independent risk factor, but, it does increase both case (χ2 = 11.06, P = 0.001) and maternal (χ2 = 6.68, P = 0.01) risk when allele frequencies were analysed in combination with the previously identified disease-associated p.R653Q (c.1958 G>A; dbSNP rs2236225) polymorphism. These results provide the first insight into how MTHFD1 is regulated and further emphasise its importance during embryonic development.
doi:10.1007/s00439-008-0616-3
PMCID: PMC2732995  PMID: 19130090
MTHFD1; NTD; Functional; SNP; R653Q; Promoter
7.  Folate-Related Gene Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate 
BACKGROUND
Cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP) and cleft palate only (CPO) have an inherited component and, many studies suggest, a relationship with folate. Attempts to find folate-related genes associated with clefts have, however, often been inconclusive. This study examined four SNPs related to folate metabolism (MTHFR 677 C→T, MTHFR 1298 A→C, MTHFD1 1958 G→A, and TC II 776 C→G) in a large Irish population to clarify their relationship with clefts.
METHODS
Cases and their parents were recruited from major surgical centers performing cleft repairs in Ireland and a support organization. Data on risk factors, medical history, and DNA were collected. Controls were pregnant women from the greater Dublin area (n = 1,599).
RESULTS
CLP cases numbered 536 and CPO cases 426 after exclusions. CPO mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be MTHFR 677 TT, OR 1.50 (95% CI: 1.05–2.16; p = .03). Log-linear analysis showed a borderline association (p = .07). Isolated CPO case mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be homozygous for the MTHFD1 1958 G→A variant, OR 1.50 (95%CI: 1.08–2.09; p = .02). When multiple cases were added, both CPO cases and case mothers were significantly more likely to be AA (p = .02 and p = .007, respectively). The CLP case-control and mother-control analyses also showed significant effects, ORs 1.38 (95% CI: 1.05–1.82; p = .03) and 1.39 (95% CI: 1.04–1.85; p = .03), respectively.
CONCLUSIONS
Associations were found for both CPO and CLP and MTHFD1 1958 G→A in cases and case mothers. MTHFR 677 C→T could be a maternal risk factor for clefts but the association was not strong. Because multiple comparisons were made, these findings require additional investigation. Given the known association between MTHFD1 1958 G→A and NTDs, these findings should be explored in more detail.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20491
PMCID: PMC2670560  PMID: 18661527
cleft lip; cleft palate; oral clefts; folate; folate genes; vitamin B12; transcobalamin gene

Results 1-7 (7)