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1.  Vitamin D Deficiency, Smoking, and Lung Function in the Normative Aging Study 
Rationale: Vitamin D has immunomodulatory and antiinflammatory effects that may be modified by cigarette smoke and may affect lung function.
Objectives: To examine the effect of vitamin D deficiency and smoking on lung function and lung function decline.
Methods: A total of 626 men from the Normative Aging Study had 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels measured at three different times between 1984 and 2003 with concurrent spirometry. Vitamin D deficiency was defined as serum level ≤ 20 ng/ml. Statistical analysis was performed using multivariable linear regression and mixed effects models.
Measurements and Main Results: In the overall cohort, there was no significant effect of vitamin D deficiency on lung function or on lung function decline. In both cross-sectional and longitudinal multivariable models, there was effect modification by vitamin D status on the association between smoking and lung function. Cross-sectional analysis revealed lower lung function in current smokers with vitamin D deficiency (FEV1, FVC, and FEV1/FVC; P ≤ 0.0002), and longitudinal analysis showed more rapid rates of decline in FEV1 (P = 0.023) per pack-year of smoking in subjects with vitamin D deficiency as compared with subjects who were vitamin D sufficient.
Conclusions: Vitamin D deficiency was associated with lower lung function and more rapid lung function decline in smokers over 20 years in this longitudinal cohort of elderly men. This suggests that vitamin D sufficiency may have a protective effect against the damaging effects of smoking on lung function. Future studies should seek to confirm this finding in the context of smoking and other exposures that affect lung function.
PMCID: PMC3480523  PMID: 22822023
vitamin D; vitamin D deficiency; lung function decline; smoking; effect modification
2.  Maternal intestinal flora and wheeze in early childhood 
Increasing evidence links altered intestinal flora in infancy to eczema and asthma. No studies have investigated the influence of maternal intestinal flora on wheezing and eczema in early childhood.
To investigate the link between maternal intestinal flora during pregnancy and development of wheeze and eczema in infancy.
Sixty pregnant women from the Boston area gave stool samples during the third trimester of their pregnancy and answered questions during pregnancy about their own health, and about their children’s health when the child was 2 and 6 months of age. Quantitative culture was performed on stool samples and measured in log10colony-forming units(CFU)/gram stool. Primary outcomes included infant wheeze and eczema in the first 6 months of life. Atopic wheeze, defined as wheeze and eczema, was analyzed as a secondary outcome.
In multivariate models adjusted for breastfeeding, daycare attendance and maternal atopy, higher counts of maternal total aerobes (TA) and enterococci (E) were associated with increased risk of infant wheeze (TA: OR 2.32 for 1 log increase in CFU/g stool [95% CI 1.22, 4.42]; E: OR 1.57 [95% CI 1.06, 2.31]). No organisms were associated with either eczema or atopic wheeze.
Conclusions & Clinical Relevance
In our cohort, higher maternal total aerobes and enterococci were related to increased risk of infant wheeze. Maternal intestinal flora may be an important environmental exposure in early immune system development.
PMCID: PMC3428746  PMID: 22909161
infant wheeze; eczema; asthma; microbiota; intestinal flora; maternal flora
3.  The Vitamin D Antenatal Asthma Reduction Trial (VDAART): Rationale, design, and methods of a randomized, controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy for the primary prevention of asthma and allergies in children 
Contemporary clinical trials  2014;38(1):37-50.
There is intense interest in the role of vitamin D in the development of asthma and allergies. However, studies differ on whether a higher vitamin D intake or status in pregnancy or at birth is protective against asthma and allergies. To address this uncertainty, the Vitamin D Antenatal Asthma Reduction Trial (VDAART) was developed. VDAART is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation in pregnant women to determine whether prenatal supplementation can prevent the development of asthma and allergies in the women’s offspring. A secondary aim is to determine whether vitamin D supplementation can prevent the development of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, preterm birth, and gestational diabetes. Women were randomized to the treatment arm of 4,000 IU/day of vitamin D3 plus a daily multivitamin that contained 400 IU of vitamin D3 or the placebo arm of placebo plus a multivitamin that contained 400 IU daily of vitamin D3. Women who were between the gestational ages of 10–18 weeks were randomized from three clinical centers across the United States – Boston Medical Center, Washington University in St. Louis, and Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region (San Diego, CA). Supplementation took place throughout pregnancy. Monthly monitoring of urinary calcium to creatinine ratio was performed in addition to medical record review for adverse events. Offspring are being evaluated quarterly through questionnaires and yearly during in-person visits until the 3rd birthday of the child. Ancillary studies will investigate neonatal T-regulatory cell function, maternal vaginal flora, and maternal and child intestinal flora.
PMCID: PMC4086903  PMID: 24614387
Vitamin D; asthma; allergy; randomized controlled trial; Deveopmental Origins; prenatal
4.  Alu and LINE-1 methylation and lung function in the normative ageing study 
BMJ Open  2012;2(5):e001231.
To investigate the association between methylation of transposable elements Alu and long-interspersed nuclear elements (LINE-1) and lung function.
Cohort study.
Outpatient Veterans Administration facilities in greater Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Individuals from the Veterans Administration Normative Aging Study, a longitudinal study of aging in men, evaluated between 1999 and 2007. The majority (97%) were white.
Primary and secondary outcome measures
Primary predictor was methylation, assessed using PCR-pyrosequencing after bisulphite treatment. Primary outcome was lung function as assessed by spirometry, performed according to American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society guidelines at the same visit as the blood draws.
In multivariable models adjusted for age, height, body mass index (BMI), pack-years of smoking, current smoking and race, Alu hypomethylation was associated with lower forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) (β=28 ml per 1% change in Alu methylation, p=0.017) and showed a trend towards association with a lower forced vital capacity (FVC) (β=27 ml, p=0.06) and lower FEV1/FVC (β=0.3%, p=0.058). In multivariable models adjusted for age, height, BMI, pack-years of smoking, current smoking, per cent lymphocytes, race and baseline lung function, LINE-1 hypomethylation was associated with more rapid decline of FEV1 (β=6.9 ml/year per 1% change in LINE-1 methylation, p=0.005) and of FVC (β=9.6 ml/year, p=0.002).
In multiple regression analysis, Alu hypomethylation was associated with lower lung function, and LINE-1 hypomethylation was associated with more rapid lung function decline in a cohort of older and primarily white men from North America. Future studies should aim to replicate these findings and determine if Alu or LINE-1 hypomethylation may be due to specific and modifiable environmental exposures.
PMCID: PMC3488751  PMID: 23075571
Epidemiology; Genetics
5.  Allergen sensitization is associated with increased DNA methylation in older men 
Variation in epigenetic modifications, arising from either environmental exposures or internal physiological changes, can influence gene expression, and may ultimately contribute to complex diseases such as asthma and allergies. We examined the association of asthma and allergic phenotypes with DNA methylation levels of retrotransposon-derived elements.
We used data from 704 men (mean age 73) in the longitudinal Normative Aging Study to assess the relationship between asthma, allergic phenotypes and DNA methylation levels of the retrotransposon derived elements Alu and LINE-1. Retrotransposons represent a large fraction of the genome (> 30%), and are heavily methylated to prevent expression. Percent methylation of Alu and LINE-1 elements in peripheral white blood cells was quantified using PCR pyrosequencing. Data on sensitization to common allergens by skin prick testing, asthma, and methacholine responsiveness was gathered approximately 8 years prior to DNA methylation analysis.
Prior allergen sensitization was associated with increased methylation of Alu (β=0.32 [sensitized vs. non-sensitized], p value 0.003), in models adjusted for pack-years, BMI, smoking, air pollutants, percent eosinophils, white blood cell count and age. Of the men interviewed, 5 % of subjects reported diagnosis of asthma. Neither Alu, nor LINE-1 methylation was associated with asthma.
These data suggest that increased DNA methylation of repetitive elements may be associated with allergen sensitization, but does not appear to be associated with asthma. Future work is needed to identify potential underlying mechanisms for these relationships.
PMCID: PMC3730837  PMID: 23257623
allergen sensitization; DNA methylation; Alu; and LINE-1
6.  A Twin Study of Early-Childhood Asthma in Puerto Ricans 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68473.
The relative contributions of genetics and environment to asthma in Hispanics or to asthma in children younger than 3 years are not well understood.
To examine the relative contributions of genetics and environment to early-childhood asthma by performing a longitudinal twin study of asthma in Puerto Rican children ≤3 years old.
678 twin infants from the Puerto Rico Neo-Natal Twin Registry were assessed for asthma at age 1 year, with follow-up data obtained for 624 twins at age 3 years. Zygosity was determined by DNA microsatellite profiling. Structural equation modeling was performed for three phenotypes at ages 1 and 3 years: physician-diagnosed asthma, asthma medication use in the past year, and ≥1 hospitalization for asthma in the past year. Models were additionally adjusted for early-life environmental tobacco smoke exposure, sex, and age.
The prevalences of physician-diagnosed asthma, asthma medication use, and hospitalization for asthma were 11.6%, 10.8%, 4.9% at age 1 year, and 34.1%, 40.1%, and 8.5% at 3 years, respectively. Shared environmental effects contributed to the majority of variance in susceptibility to physician-diagnosed asthma and asthma medication use in the first year of life (84%–86%), while genetic effects drove variance in all phenotypes (45%–65%) at age 3 years. Early-life environmental tobacco smoke, sex, and age contributed to variance in susceptibility.
Our longitudinal study in Puerto Rican twins demonstrates a changing contribution of shared environmental effects to liability for physician-diagnosed asthma and asthma medication use between ages 1 and 3 years. Early-life environmental tobacco smoke reduction could markedly reduce asthma morbidity in young Puerto Rican children.
PMCID: PMC3700929  PMID: 23844206
7.  Psychosocial stress and asthma morbidity 
Purpose of review
The objective of this review is to provide an overview and discussion of recent epidemiologic and mechanistic studies of stress in relation to asthma incidence and morbidity.
Recent findings
Recent findings suggest that stress, whether at the individual- (i.e., epigenetics, perceived stress), family- (i.e., prenatal maternal stress, early life exposure or intimate partner violence) or community- (i.e.., neighborhood violence; neighborhood disadvantage) level influences asthma and asthma morbidity. Key recent findings regarding how psychosocial stress may influence asthma through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), pre-and post-natal maternal/caregiver stress, and community violence and deprivation are highlighted.
New research illustrates the need to further examine, characterize and address the influence of social and environmental factors (i.e., psychological stress) on asthma. Further research and innovative methodologies are needed to characterize the relationship and pathways associated with stress at multiple levels to more fully understand and address asthma morbidity, and to design potential interventions, especially to address persistent disparities in asthma in ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged communities.
PMCID: PMC3320729  PMID: 22266773
asthma; allergy; stress; psychosocial; cytokines; maternal; violence; community
8.  Parental psychosocial stress and asthma morbidity in Puerto Rican twins 
Little is known about paternal psychosocial factors and childhood asthma.
To examine the link between maternal and paternal psychosocial stress and asthma outcomes in young children.
Parents of 339 pairs of Puerto Rican twins were interviewed individually about their own psychosocial stress and about asthma in their children at age 1 and again about their child’s asthma at age 3. Fathers were asked about symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anti-social behavior. Mothers were asked about depressive symptoms. Outcomes assessed in children included recent asthma symptoms, oral steroid use and hospitalizations for asthma in the prior year, and asthma diagnosis. Generalized estimated equation models were used for the multivariate analysis of parental psychosocial stress and asthma morbidity in childhood.
After multivariable adjustment, paternal PTSD symptoms, depression, and anti-social behavior were each associated with increased asthma symptoms at age 1 (e.g., OR =1.08 for each 1-point increase in PTSD score, 95% CI=1.03–1.14). Maternal depressive symptoms were associated with an increased risk of asthma hospitalizations at age 1 year. At age 3 years, maternal depressive symptoms were associated with asthma diagnosis and hospitalizations for asthma (OR for each 1-point increase in symptoms=1.16, 95% CI=1.00–1.36]). In an analysis combining 1 and 3 year outcomes, paternal depression was associated with oral steroid use, maternal depressive symptoms were associated with asthma hospitalizations and asthma diagnosis, and parental depression was associated with hospitalizations for asthma.
Both paternal and maternal psychosocial factors may influence asthma morbidity in young Puerto Rican children.
PMCID: PMC3057225  PMID: 21194742
psychosocial stress; childhood wheeze; Puerto Rico; parental stress; asthma; paternal stress
9.  Maternal dietary pattern during pregnancy is not associated with recurrent wheeze in children 
The rise in asthma prevalence over the last few decades may be due changes in pre-natal or early life environment including maternal diet during pregnancy. Previous studies have found associations between individual foods or nutrients consumed during pregnancy and asthma or wheeze in children, but these may be confounded by overall dietary pattern.
To determine if overall maternal dietary pattern during pregnancy is associated with recurrent wheeze in children.
1376 mother-infant pairs from Project Viva, a longitudinal pre-birth cohort, who had responses for food frequency questionnaires in the 1st and 2nd trimester and outcome data at 3 years of age were included. Multivariable logistic regression was used to look at associations between dietary pattern and the primary outcome of recurrent wheeze at 3 years. Overall dietary pattern was examined using Mediterranean diet score, Alternate Healthy Eating Index modified for pregnancy (AHEI-P), and principal components analysis to look at Western and Prudent diets.
None of these dietary patterns was associated with the primary outcome of recurrent wheeze in children in either the crude or in the multivariable models (multivariable model: OR per one point increase Mediterranean diet 0.98 [95% CI 0.89, 1.08] AHEI-P 1.07 [0.87, 1.30] Prudent 1.02 [0.83, 1.26] Western 0.98 [0.81, 1.19]).
Overall dietary pattern during pregnancy is not associated with recurrent wheeze in this cohort. Maternal intake of individual nutrients may be more important determinants ofoffspring wheeze-associated illness than is dietary pattern.
PMCID: PMC2917539  PMID: 20584543
asthma; dietary pattern; Mediterranean diet; healthy diet; principal components; childhood wheeze; pregnancy
10.  Comprehensive genetic assessment of a functional TLR9 promoter polymorphism: no replicable association with asthma or asthma-related phenotypes 
BMC Medical Genetics  2011;12:26.
Prior studies suggest a role for a variant (rs5743836) in the promoter of toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) in asthma and other inflammatory diseases. We performed detailed genetic association studies of the functional variant rs5743836 with asthma susceptibility and asthma-related phenotypes in three independent cohorts.
rs5743836 was genotyped in two family-based cohorts of children with asthma and a case-control study of adult asthmatics. Association analyses were performed using chi square, family-based and population-based testing. A luciferase assay was performed to investigate whether rs5743836 genotype influences TLR9 promoter activity.
Contrary to prior reports, rs5743836 was not associated with asthma in any of the three cohorts. Marginally significant associations were found with FEV1 and FVC (p = 0.003 and p = 0.008, respectively) in one of the family-based cohorts, but these associations were not significant after correcting for multiple comparisons. Higher promoter activity of the CC genotype was demonstrated by luciferase assay, confirming the functional importance of this variant.
Although rs5743836 confers regulatory effects on TLR9 transcription, this variant does not appear to be an important asthma-susceptibility locus.
PMCID: PMC3048492  PMID: 21324137
11.  Vitamin D, the immune system and asthma 
The effects of vitamin D on bone metabolism and calcium homeostasis have long been recognized. Emerging evidence has implicated vitamin D as a critical regulator of immunity, playing a role in both the innate and cell-mediated immune systems. Vitamin D deficiency has been found to be associated with several immune-mediated diseases, susceptibility to infection and cancer. Recently, there has been increasing interest in the possible link between vitamin D and asthma. Further elucidation of the role of vitamin D in lung development and immune system function may hold profound implications for the prevention and treatment of asthma.
PMCID: PMC2812815  PMID: 20161622
asthma; autoimmune disease; immune system regulation; T-regulatory cell; vitamin D; vitamin D deficiency

Results 1-11 (11)