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1.  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
2.  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
3.  The DNA Methylome of Human Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(11):e1000533.
Analysis across the genome of patterns of DNA methylation reveals a rich landscape of allele-specific epigenetic modification and consequent effects on allele-specific gene expression.
DNA methylation plays an important role in biological processes in human health and disease. Recent technological advances allow unbiased whole-genome DNA methylation (methylome) analysis to be carried out on human cells. Using whole-genome bisulfite sequencing at 24.7-fold coverage (12.3-fold per strand), we report a comprehensive (92.62%) methylome and analysis of the unique sequences in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from the same Asian individual whose genome was deciphered in the YH project. PBMC constitute an important source for clinical blood tests world-wide. We found that 68.4% of CpG sites and <0.2% of non-CpG sites were methylated, demonstrating that non-CpG cytosine methylation is minor in human PBMC. Analysis of the PBMC methylome revealed a rich epigenomic landscape for 20 distinct genomic features, including regulatory, protein-coding, non-coding, RNA-coding, and repeat sequences. Integration of our methylome data with the YH genome sequence enabled a first comprehensive assessment of allele-specific methylation (ASM) between the two haploid methylomes of any individual and allowed the identification of 599 haploid differentially methylated regions (hDMRs) covering 287 genes. Of these, 76 genes had hDMRs within 2 kb of their transcriptional start sites of which >80% displayed allele-specific expression (ASE). These data demonstrate that ASM is a recurrent phenomenon and is highly correlated with ASE in human PBMCs. Together with recently reported similar studies, our study provides a comprehensive resource for future epigenomic research and confirms new sequencing technology as a paradigm for large-scale epigenomics studies.
Author Summary
Epigenetic modifications such as addition of methyl groups to cytosine in DNA play a role in regulating gene expression. To better understand these processes, knowledge of the methylation status of all cytosine bases in the genome (the methylome) is required. DNA methylation can differ between the two gene copies (alleles) in each cell. Such allele-specific methylation (ASM) can be due to parental origin of the alleles (imprinting), X chromosome inactivation in females, and other as yet unknown mechanisms. This may significantly alter the expression profile arising from different allele combinations in different individuals. Using advanced sequencing technology, we have determined the methylome of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Importantly, the PBMC were obtained from the same male Han Chinese individual whose complete genome had previously been determined. This allowed us, for the first time, to study genome-wide differences in ASM. Our analysis shows that ASM in PBMC is higher than can be accounted for by regions known to undergo parent-of-origin imprinting and frequently (>80%) correlates with allele-specific expression (ASE) of the corresponding gene. In addition, our data reveal a rich landscape of epigenomic variation for 20 genomic features, including regulatory, coding, and non-coding sequences, and provide a valuable resource for future studies. Our work further establishes whole-genome sequencing as an efficient method for methylome analysis.
PMCID: PMC2976721  PMID: 21085693
4.  AutoMeDIP-seq: A high-throughput, whole genome, DNA methylation assay 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2010;52(3-13):223-231.
DNA methylation is an epigenetic mark linking DNA sequence and transcription regulation, and therefore plays an important role in phenotypic plasticity. The ideal whole genome methylation (methylome) assay should be accurate, affordable, high-throughput and agnostic with respect to genomic features. To this end, the methylated DNA immunoprecipitation (MeDIP) assay provides a good balance of these criteria. In this Methods paper, we present AutoMeDIP-seq, a technique that combines an automated MeDIP protocol with library preparation steps for subsequent second-generation sequencing. We assessed recovery of DNA sequences covering a range of CpG densities using in vitro methylated λ-DNA fragments (and their unmethylated counterparts) spiked-in against a background of human genomic DNA. We show that AutoMeDIP is more reliable than manual protocols, shows a linear recovery profile of fragments related to CpG density (R2 = 0.86), and that it is highly specific (>99%). AutoMeDIP-seq offers a competitive approach to high-throughput methylome analysis of medium to large cohorts.
PMCID: PMC2977854  PMID: 20385236
DNA methylation; Automation; Whole genome; High-throughput sequencing; MeDIP
5.  Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis for diabetic nephropathy in type 1 diabetes mellitus 
BMC Medical Genomics  2010;3:33.
Diabetic nephropathy is a serious complication of diabetes mellitus and is associated with considerable morbidity and high mortality. There is increasing evidence to suggest that dysregulation of the epigenome is involved in diabetic nephropathy. We assessed whether epigenetic modification of DNA methylation is associated with diabetic nephropathy in a case-control study of 192 Irish patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1D). Cases had T1D and nephropathy whereas controls had T1D but no evidence of renal disease.
We performed DNA methylation profiling in bisulphite converted DNA from cases and controls using the recently developed Illumina Infinium® HumanMethylation27 BeadChip, that enables the direct investigation of 27,578 individual cytosines at CpG loci throughout the genome, which are focused on the promoter regions of 14,495 genes.
Singular Value Decomposition (SVD) analysis indicated that significant components of DNA methylation variation correlated with patient age, time to onset of diabetic nephropathy, and sex. Adjusting for confounding factors using multivariate Cox-regression analyses, and with a false discovery rate (FDR) of 0.05, we observed 19 CpG sites that demonstrated correlations with time to development of diabetic nephropathy. Of note, this included one CpG site located 18 bp upstream of the transcription start site of UNC13B, a gene in which the first intronic SNP rs13293564 has recently been reported to be associated with diabetic nephropathy.
This high throughput platform was able to successfully interrogate the methylation state of individual cytosines and identified 19 prospective CpG sites associated with risk of diabetic nephropathy. These differences in DNA methylation are worthy of further follow-up in replication studies using larger cohorts of diabetic patients with and without nephropathy.
PMCID: PMC2924253  PMID: 20687937
6.  DNA Methylation-mediated Down-regulation of DNA Methyltransferase-1 (DNMT1) Is Coincident with, but Not Essential for, Global Hypomethylation in Human Placenta 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2010;285(13):9583-9593.
The genome of extraembryonic tissue, such as the placenta, is hypomethylated relative to that in somatic tissues. However, the origin and role of this hypomethylation remains unclear. The DNA methyltransferases DNMT1, -3A, and -3B are the primary mediators of the establishment and maintenance of DNA methylation in mammals. In this study, we investigated promoter methylation-mediated epigenetic down-regulation of DNMT genes as a potential regulator of global methylation levels in placental tissue. Although DNMT3A and -3B promoters lack methylation in all somatic and extraembryonic tissues tested, we found specific hypermethylation of the maintenance DNA methyltransferase (DNMT1) gene and found hypomethylation of the DNMT3L gene in full term and first trimester placental tissues. Bisulfite DNA sequencing revealed monoallelic methylation of DNMT1, with no evidence of imprinting (parent of origin effect). In vitro reporter experiments confirmed that DNMT1 promoter methylation attenuates transcriptional activity in trophoblast cells. However, global hypomethylation in the absence of DNMT1 down-regulation is apparent in non-primate placentas and in vitro derived human cytotrophoblast stem cells, suggesting that DNMT1 down-regulation is not an absolute requirement for genomic hypomethylation in all instances. These data represent the first demonstration of methylation-mediated regulation of the DNMT1 gene in any system and demonstrate that the unique epigenome of the human placenta includes down-regulation of DNMT1 with concomitant hypomethylation of the DNMT3L gene. This strongly implicates epigenetic regulation of the DNMT gene family in the establishment of the unique epigenetic profile of extraembryonic tissue in humans.
PMCID: PMC2843208  PMID: 20071334
Development Differentiation/Tissue; DNA/Methylation; DNA/Methyltransferase; Epigenetics; Gene Transcription; Extraembryonic Tissue; Placenta; Trophoblast

Results 1-6 (6)