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1.  Gene expression changes with age in skin, adipose tissue, blood and brain 
Genome Biology  2013;14(7):R75.
Previous studies have demonstrated that gene expression levels change with age. These changes are hypothesized to influence the aging rate of an individual. We analyzed gene expression changes with age in abdominal skin, subcutaneous adipose tissue and lymphoblastoid cell lines in 856 female twins in the age range of 39-85 years. Additionally, we investigated genotypic variants involved in genotype-by-age interactions to understand how the genomic regulation of gene expression alters with age.
Using a linear mixed model, differential expression with age was identified in 1,672 genes in skin and 188 genes in adipose tissue. Only two genes expressed in lymphoblastoid cell lines showed significant changes with age. Genes significantly regulated by age were compared with expression profiles in 10 brain regions from 100 postmortem brains aged 16 to 83 years. We identified only one age-related gene common to the three tissues. There were 12 genes that showed differential expression with age in both skin and brain tissue and three common to adipose and brain tissues.
Skin showed the most age-related gene expression changes of all the tissues investigated, with many of the genes being previously implicated in fatty acid metabolism, mitochondrial activity, cancer and splicing. A significant proportion of age-related changes in gene expression appear to be tissue-specific with only a few genes sharing an age effect in expression across tissues. More research is needed to improve our understanding of the genetic influences on aging and the relationship with age-related diseases.
PMCID: PMC4054017  PMID: 23889843
Aging; gene expression; skin; adipose; brain; microarrays
2.  Hypermethylation in the ZBTB20 gene is associated with major depressive disorder 
Genome Biology  2014;15(4):R56.
Although genetic variation is believed to contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to major depressive disorder, genome-wide association studies have not yet identified associations that could explain the full etiology of the disease. Epigenetics is increasingly believed to play a major role in the development of common clinical phenotypes, including major depressive disorder.
Genome-wide MeDIP-Sequencing was carried out on a total of 50 monozygotic twin pairs from the UK and Australia that are discordant for depression. We show that major depressive disorder is associated with significant hypermethylation within the coding region of ZBTB20, and is replicated in an independent cohort of 356 unrelated case-control individuals. The twins with major depressive disorder also show increased global variation in methylation in comparison with their unaffected co-twins. ZBTB20 plays an essential role in the specification of the Cornu Ammonis-1 field identity in the developing hippocampus, a region previously implicated in the development of major depressive disorder.
Our results suggest that aberrant methylation profiles affecting the hippocampus are associated with major depressive disorder and show the potential of the epigenetic twin model in neuro-psychiatric disease.
PMCID: PMC4072999  PMID: 24694013
3.  To What Extent is Blood a Reasonable Surrogate for Brain in Gene Expression Studies: Estimation from Mouse Hippocampus and Spleen 
Microarrays are designed to measure genome-wide differences in gene expression. In cases where a tissue is not accessible for analysis (e.g. human brain), it is of interest to determine whether a second, accessible tissue could be used as a surrogate for transcription profiling. Surrogacy has applications in the study of behavioural and neurodegenerative disorders. Comparison between hippocampus and spleen mRNA obtained from a mouse recombinant inbred panel indicates a high degree of correlation between the tissues for genes that display a high heritability of expression level. This correlation is not limited to apparent expression differences caused by sequence polymorphisms in the target sequences and includes both cis and trans genetic effects. A tissue such as blood could therefore give surrogate information on expression in brain for a subset of genes, in particular those co-expressed between the two tissues, which have heritably varying expression.
PMCID: PMC2858613  PMID: 20582281
hippocampus; spleen; recombinant inbred strain; gene expression; surrogacy
4.  Functional annotation of the human brain methylome identifies tissue-specific epigenetic variation across brain and blood 
Genome Biology  2012;13(6):R43.
Dynamic changes to the epigenome play a critical role in establishing and maintaining cellular phenotype during differentiation, but little is known about the normal methylomic differences that occur between functionally distinct areas of the brain. We characterized intra- and inter-individual methylomic variation across whole blood and multiple regions of the brain from multiple donors.
Distinct tissue-specific patterns of DNA methylation were identified, with a highly significant over-representation of tissue-specific differentially methylated regions (TS-DMRs) observed at intragenic CpG islands and low CG density promoters. A large proportion of TS-DMRs were located near genes that are differentially expressed across brain regions. TS-DMRs were significantly enriched near genes involved in functional pathways related to neurodevelopment and neuronal differentiation, including BDNF, BMP4, CACNA1A, CACA1AF, EOMES, NGFR, NUMBL, PCDH9, SLIT1, SLITRK1 and SHANK3. Although between-tissue variation in DNA methylation was found to greatly exceed between-individual differences within any one tissue, we found that some inter-individual variation was reflected across brain and blood, indicating that peripheral tissues may have some utility in epidemiological studies of complex neurobiological phenotypes.
This study reinforces the importance of DNA methylation in regulating cellular phenotype across tissues, and highlights genomic patterns of epigenetic variation across functionally distinct regions of the brain, providing a resource for the epigenetics and neuroscience research communities.
PMCID: PMC3446315  PMID: 22703893
5.  Gene set enrichment; a problem of pathways 
Briefings in Functional Genomics  2010;9(5-6):385-390.
Gene Set Enrichment (GSE) is a computational technique which determines whether a priori defined set of genes show statistically significant differential expression between two phenotypes. Currently, the gene sets used for GSE are derived from annotation or pathway databases, which often contain computationally based and unrepresentative data. Here, we propose a novel approach for the generation of comprehensive and biologically derived gene sets, deriving sets through the application of machine learning techniques to gene expression data. These gene sets can be produced for specific tissues, developmental stages or environments. They provide a powerful and functionally meaningful way in which to mine genomewide association and next generation sequencing data in order to identify disease-associated variants and pathways.
PMCID: PMC3080747  PMID: 20861160
gene set enrichment; annotation database; gene expression data; machine learning; next generation sequencing
6.  T-cell epitope prediction and immune complex simulation using molecular dynamics: state of the art and persisting challenges 
Immunome Research  2010;6(Suppl 2):S4.
Atomistic Molecular Dynamics provides powerful and flexible tools for the prediction and analysis of molecular and macromolecular systems. Specifically, it provides a means by which we can measure theoretically that which cannot be measured experimentally: the dynamic time-evolution of complex systems comprising atoms and molecules. It is particularly suitable for the simulation and analysis of the otherwise inaccessible details of MHC-peptide interaction and, on a larger scale, the simulation of the immune synapse. Progress has been relatively tentative yet the emergence of truly high-performance computing and the development of coarse-grained simulation now offers us the hope of accurately predicting thermodynamic parameters and of simulating not merely a handful of proteins but larger, longer simulations comprising thousands of protein molecules and the cellular scale structures they form. We exemplify this within the context of immunoinformatics.
PMCID: PMC2981876  PMID: 21067546
7.  Computer aided selection of candidate vaccine antigens 
Immunome Research  2010;6(Suppl 2):S1.
Immunoinformatics is an emergent branch of informatics science that long ago pullulated from the tree of knowledge that is bioinformatics. It is a discipline which applies informatic techniques to problems of the immune system. To a great extent, immunoinformatics is typified by epitope prediction methods. It has found disappointingly limited use in the design and discovery of new vaccines, which is an area where proper computational support is generally lacking. Most extant vaccines are not based around isolated epitopes but rather correspond to chemically-treated or attenuated whole pathogens or correspond to individual proteins extract from whole pathogens or correspond to complex carbohydrate. In this chapter we attempt to review what progress there has been in an as-yet-underexplored area of immunoinformatics: the computational discovery of whole protein antigens. The effective development of antigen prediction methods would significantly reduce the laboratory resource required to identify pathogenic proteins as candidate subunit vaccines. We begin our review by placing antigen prediction firmly into context, exploring the role of reverse vaccinology in the design and discovery of vaccines. We also highlight several competing yet ultimately complementary methodological approaches: sub-cellular location prediction, identifying antigens using sequence similarity, and the use of sophisticated statistical approaches for predicting the probability of antigen characteristics. We end by exploring how a systems immunomics approach to the prediction of immunogenicity would prove helpful in the prediction of antigens.
PMCID: PMC2981880  PMID: 21067543
8.  Toward the Discovery of Vaccine Adjuvants: Coupling In Silico Screening and In Vitro Analysis of Antagonist Binding to Human and Mouse CCR4 Receptors 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e8084.
Adjuvants enhance or modify an immune response that is made to an antigen. An antagonist of the chemokine CCR4 receptor can display adjuvant-like properties by diminishing the ability of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) to down-regulate immune responses.
Here, we have used protein modelling to create a plausible chemokine receptor model with the aim of using virtual screening to identify potential small molecule chemokine antagonists. A combination of homology modelling and molecular docking was used to create a model of the CCR4 receptor in order to investigate potential lead compounds that display antagonistic properties. Three-dimensional structure-based virtual screening of the CCR4 receptor identified 116 small molecules that were calculated to have a high affinity for the receptor; these were tested experimentally for CCR4 antagonism. Fifteen of these small molecules were shown to inhibit specifically CCR4-mediated cell migration, including that of CCR4+ Tregs.
Our CCR4 antagonists act as adjuvants augmenting human T cell proliferation in an in vitro immune response model and compound SP50 increases T cell and antibody responses in vivo when combined with vaccine antigens of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Plasmodium yoelii in mice.
PMCID: PMC2787246  PMID: 20011659
9.  GPCRTree: online hierarchical classification of GPCR function 
BMC Research Notes  2008;1:67.
G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) play important physiological roles transducing extracellular signals into intracellular responses. Approximately 50% of all marketed drugs target a GPCR. There remains considerable interest in effectively predicting the function of a GPCR from its primary sequence.
Using techniques drawn from data mining and proteochemometrics, an alignment-free approach to GPCR classification has been devised. It uses a simple representation of a protein's physical properties. GPCRTree, a publicly-available internet server, implements an algorithm that classifies GPCRs at the class, sub-family and sub-subfamily level.
A selective top-down classifier was developed which assigns sequences within a GPCR hierarchy. Compared to other publicly available GPCR prediction servers, GPCRTree is considerably more accurate at every level of classification. The server has been available online since March 2008 at URL: .
PMCID: PMC2547103  PMID: 18717986
10.  Benchmarking pKa prediction 
BMC Biochemistry  2006;7:18.
pKa values are a measure of the protonation of ionizable groups in proteins. Ionizable groups are involved in intra-protein, protein-solvent and protein-ligand interactions as well as solubility, protein folding and catalytic activity. The pKa shift of a group from its intrinsic value is determined by the perturbation of the residue by the environment and can be calculated from three-dimensional structural data.
Here we use a large dataset of experimentally-determined pKas to analyse the performance of different prediction techniques. Our work provides a benchmark of available software implementations: MCCE, MEAD, PROPKA and UHBD. Combinatorial and regression analysis is also used in an attempt to find a consensus approach towards pKa prediction. The tendency of individual programs to over- or underpredict the pKa value is related to the underlying methodology of the individual programs.
Overall, PROPKA is more accurate than the other three programs. Key to developing accurate predictive software will be a complete sampling of conformations accessible to protein structures.
PMCID: PMC1513386  PMID: 16749919
11.  Statistical deconvolution of enthalpic energetic contributions to MHC-peptide binding affinity 
MHC Class I molecules present antigenic peptides to cytotoxic T cells, which forms an integral part of the adaptive immune response. Peptides are bound within a groove formed by the MHC heavy chain. Previous approaches to MHC Class I-peptide binding prediction have largely concentrated on the peptide anchor residues located at the P2 and C-terminus positions.
A large dataset comprising MHC-peptide structural complexes was created by re-modelling pre-determined x-ray crystallographic structures. Static energetic analysis, following energy minimisation, was performed on the dataset in order to characterise interactions between bound peptides and the MHC Class I molecule, partitioning the interactions within the groove into van der Waals, electrostatic and total non-bonded energy contributions.
The QSAR techniques of Genetic Function Approximation (GFA) and Genetic Partial Least Squares (G/PLS) algorithms were used to identify key interactions between the two molecules by comparing the calculated energy values with experimentally-determined BL50 data. Although the peptide termini binding interactions help ensure the stability of the MHC Class I-peptide complex, the central region of the peptide is also important in defining the specificity of the interaction. As thermodynamic studies indicate that peptide association and dissociation may be driven entropically, it may be necessary to incorporate entropic contributions into future calculations.
PMCID: PMC1435758  PMID: 16549002
12.  PPD v1.0—an integrated, web-accessible database of experimentally determined protein pKa values 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;34(Database issue):D199-D203.
The Protein pKa Database (PPD) v1.0 provides a compendium of protein residue-specific ionization equilibria (pKa values), as collated from the primary literature, in the form of a web-accessible postgreSQL relational database. Ionizable residues play key roles in the molecular mechanisms that underlie many biological phenomena, including protein folding and enzyme catalysis. The PPD serves as a general protein pKa archive and as a source of data that allows for the development and improvement of pKa prediction systems. The database is accessed through an HTML interface, which offers two fast, efficient search methods: an amino acid-based query and a Basic Local Alignment Search Tool search. Entries also give details of experimental techniques and links to other key databases, such as National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Protein Data Bank, providing the user with considerable background information. The database can be found at the following URL: .
PMCID: PMC1347398  PMID: 16381845
13.  A Novel Predictive Technique for the MHC Class II Peptide–Binding Interaction 
Molecular Medicine  2003;9(9-12):220-225.
Antigenic peptide is presented to a T-cell receptor through the formation of a stable complex with a Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) molecule. Various predictive algorithms have been developed to estimate a peptide’s capacity to form a stable complex with a given MHC Class II allele, a technique integral to the strategy of vaccine design. These have previously incorporated such computational techniques as quantitative matrices and neural networks. We have developed a novel predictive technique that uses molecular modeling of predetermined crystal structures to estimate the stability of an MHC Class II peptide complex. This is the 1st structure-based technique, as previous methods have been based on binding data. ROC curves are used to quantify the accuracy of the molecular modeling technique. The novel predictive technique is found to be comparable with the best predictive software currently available.
PMCID: PMC1430983  PMID: 15208743

Results 1-13 (13)