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1.  Human-specific CpG “beacons” identify loci associated with human-specific traits and disease 
Epigenetics  2012;7(10):1188-1199.
Regulatory change has long been hypothesized to drive the delineation of the human phenotype from other closely related primates. Here we provide evidence that CpG dinucleotides play a special role in this process. CpGs enable epigenome variability via DNA methylation, and this epigenetic mark functions as a regulatory mechanism. Therefore, species-specific CpGs may influence species-specific regulation. We report non-polymorphic species-specific CpG dinucleotides (termed “CpG beacons”) as a distinct genomic feature associated with CpG island (CGI) evolution, human traits and disease. Using an inter-primate comparison, we identified 21 extreme CpG beacon clusters (≥ 20/kb peaks, empirical p < 1.0 × 10−3) in humans, which include associations with four monogenic developmental and neurological disease related genes (Benjamini-Hochberg corrected p = 6.03 × 10−3). We also demonstrate that beacon-mediated CpG density gain in CGIs correlates with reduced methylation in these species in orthologous CGIs over time, via human, chimpanzee and macaque MeDIP-seq. Therefore mapping into both the genomic and epigenomic space the identified CpG beacon clusters define points of intersection where a substantial two-way interaction between genetic sequence and epigenetic state has occurred. Taken together, our data support a model for CpG beacons to contribute to CGI evolution from genesis to tissue-specific to constitutively active CGIs.
PMCID: PMC3469460  PMID: 22968434
epigenetics; epigenomics; CpG islands; gene regulation; evolution; human disease
2.  The epigenomic interface between genome and environment in common complex diseases 
Briefings in Functional Genomics  2010;9(5-6):477-485.
The epigenome plays the pivotal role as interface between genome and environment. True genome-wide assessments of epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation (methylomes) or chromatin modifications (chromatinomes), are now possible, either through high-throughput arrays or increasingly by second-generation DNA sequencing methods. The ability to collect these data at this level of resolution enables us to begin to be able to propose detailed questions, and interrogate this information, with regards to changes that occur due to development, lineage and tissue-specificity, and significantly those caused by environmental influence, such as ageing, stress, diet, hormones or toxins. Common complex traits are under variable levels of genetic influence and additionally epigenetic effect. The detection of pathological epigenetic alterations will reveal additional insights into their aetiology and how possible environmental modulation of this mechanism may occur. Due to the reversibility of these marks, the potential for sequence-specific targeted therapeutics exists. This review surveys recent epigenomic advances and their current and prospective application to the study of common diseases.
PMCID: PMC3080746  PMID: 21062751
Genomics; epigenetics; epigenomics; common disease; complex traits; gene environment interaction
3.  Identification of Type 1 Diabetes–Associated DNA Methylation Variable Positions That Precede Disease Diagnosis 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(9):e1002300.
Monozygotic (MZ) twin pair discordance for childhood-onset Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is ∼50%, implicating roles for genetic and non-genetic factors in the aetiology of this complex autoimmune disease. Although significant progress has been made in elucidating the genetics of T1D in recent years, the non-genetic component has remained poorly defined. We hypothesized that epigenetic variation could underlie some of the non-genetic component of T1D aetiology and, thus, performed an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) for this disease. We generated genome-wide DNA methylation profiles of purified CD14+ monocytes (an immune effector cell type relevant to T1D pathogenesis) from 15 T1D–discordant MZ twin pairs. This identified 132 different CpG sites at which the direction of the intra-MZ pair DNA methylation difference significantly correlated with the diabetic state, i.e. T1D–associated methylation variable positions (T1D–MVPs). We confirmed these T1D–MVPs display statistically significant intra-MZ pair DNA methylation differences in the expected direction in an independent set of T1D–discordant MZ pairs (P = 0.035). Then, to establish the temporal origins of the T1D–MVPs, we generated two further genome-wide datasets and established that, when compared with controls, T1D–MVPs are enriched in singletons both before (P = 0.001) and at (P = 0.015) disease diagnosis, and also in singletons positive for diabetes-associated autoantibodies but disease-free even after 12 years follow-up (P = 0.0023). Combined, these results suggest that T1D–MVPs arise very early in the etiological process that leads to overt T1D. Our EWAS of T1D represents an important contribution toward understanding the etiological role of epigenetic variation in type 1 diabetes, and it is also the first systematic analysis of the temporal origins of disease-associated epigenetic variation for any human complex disease.
Author Summary
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a complex autoimmune disease affecting >30 million people worldwide. It is caused by a combination of genetic and non-genetic factors, leading to destruction of insulin-secreting cells. Although significant progress has recently been made in elucidating the genetics of T1D, the non-genetic component has remained poorly defined. Epigenetic modifications, such as methylation of DNA, are indispensable for genomic processes such as transcriptional regulation and are frequently perturbed in human disease. We therefore hypothesized that epigenetic variation could underlie some of the non-genetic component of T1D aetiology, and we performed a genome-wide DNA methylation analysis of a specific subset of immune cells (monocytes) from monozygotic twins discordant for T1D. This revealed the presence of T1D–specific methylation variable positions (T1D–MVPs) in the T1D–affected co-twins. Since these T1D–MVPs were found in MZ twins, they cannot be due to genetic differences. Additional experiments revealed that some of these T1D–MVPs are found in individuals before T1D diagnosis, suggesting they arise very early in the process that leads to overt T1D and are not simply due to post-disease associated factors (e.g. medication or long-term metabolic changes). T1D–MVPs may thus potentially represent a previously unappreciated, and important, component of type 1 diabetes risk.
PMCID: PMC3183089  PMID: 21980303
4.  Integrated Genetic and Epigenetic Analysis Identifies Haplotype-Specific Methylation in the FTO Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity Susceptibility Locus 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e14040.
Recent multi-dimensional approaches to the study of complex disease have revealed powerful insights into how genetic and epigenetic factors may underlie their aetiopathogenesis. We examined genotype-epigenotype interactions in the context of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), focussing on known regions of genomic susceptibility. We assayed DNA methylation in 60 females, stratified according to disease susceptibility haplotype using previously identified association loci. CpG methylation was assessed using methylated DNA immunoprecipitation on a targeted array (MeDIP-chip) and absolute methylation values were estimated using a Bayesian algorithm (BATMAN). Absolute methylation levels were quantified across LD blocks, and we identified increased DNA methylation on the FTO obesity susceptibility haplotype, tagged by the rs8050136 risk allele A (p = 9.40×10−4, permutation p = 1.0×10−3). Further analysis across the 46 kb LD block using sliding windows localised the most significant difference to be within a 7.7 kb region (p = 1.13×10−7). Sequence level analysis, followed by pyrosequencing validation, revealed that the methylation difference was driven by the co-ordinated phase of CpG-creating SNPs across the risk haplotype. This 7.7 kb region of haplotype-specific methylation (HSM), encapsulates a Highly Conserved Non-Coding Element (HCNE) that has previously been validated as a long-range enhancer, supported by the histone H3K4me1 enhancer signature. This study demonstrates that integration of Genome-Wide Association (GWA) SNP and epigenomic DNA methylation data can identify potential novel genotype-epigenotype interactions within disease-associated loci, thus providing a novel route to aid unravelling common complex diseases.
PMCID: PMC2987816  PMID: 21124985

Results 1-4 (4)