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1.  DNA methylation profiling of human chromosomes 6, 20 and 22 
Nature genetics  2006;38(12):1378-1385.
DNA methylation constitutes the most stable type of epigenetic modifications modulating the transcriptional plasticity of mammalian genomes. Using bisulfite DNA sequencing, we report high-resolution methylation reference profiles of human chromosomes 6, 20 and 22, providing a resource of about 1.9 million CpG methylation values derived from 12 different tissues. Analysis of 6 annotation categories, revealed evolutionary conserved regions to be the predominant sites for differential DNA methylation and a core region surrounding the transcriptional start site as informative surrogate for promoter methylation. We find 17% of the 873 analyzed genes differentially methylated in their 5′-untranslated regions (5′-UTR) and about one third of the differentially methylated 5′-UTRs to be inversely correlated with transcription. While our study was controlled for factors reported to affect DNA methylation such as sex and age, we did not find any significant attributable effects. Our data suggest DNA methylation to be ontogenetically more stable than previously thought.
PMCID: PMC3082778  PMID: 17072317
3.  A high resolution HLA and SNP haplotype map for disease association studies in the extended human MHC 
Nature genetics  2006;38(10):1166-1172.
The proteins encoded by the classical HLA class I and class II genes in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) are highly polymorphic and play an essential role in self/non-self immune recognition. HLA variation is a crucial determinant of transplant rejection and susceptibility to a large number of infectious and autoimmune disease1. Yet identification of causal variants is problematic due to linkage disequilibrium (LD) that extends across multiple HLA and non-HLA genes in the MHC2,3. We therefore set out to characterize the LD patterns between the highly polymorphic HLA genes and background variation by typing the classical HLA genes and >7,500 common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and deletion/insertion polymorphisms (DIPs) across four population samples. The analysis provides informative tag SNPs that capture some of the variation in the MHC region and that could be used in initial disease association studies, and provides new insight into the evolutionary dynamics and ancestral origins of the HLA loci and their haplotypes.
PMCID: PMC2670196  PMID: 16998491
4.  Replication of the association of HLA-B7 with Alzheimer's disease: a role for homozygosity? 
There are reasons to expect an association with Alzheimer's disease (AD) within the HLA region. The HLA-B & C genes have, however, been relatively understudied. A geographically specific association with HLA-B7 & HLA-Cw*0702 had been suggested by our previous, small study.
We studied the HLA-B & C alleles in 196 cases of 'definite' or 'probable' AD and 199 elderly controls of the OPTIMA cohort, the largest full study of these alleles in AD to date.
We replicated the association of HLA-B7 with AD (overall, adjusted odds ratio = 2.3, 95% confidence interval = 1.4–3.7, p = 0.001), but not the previously suggested interaction with the ε4 allele of apolipoprotein E. Results for HLA-Cw*0702, which is in tight linkage disequilibrium with HLA-B7, were consistent with those for the latter. Homozygotes of both alleles appeared to be at particularly high risk of AD.
HLA-B7 and HLA-Cw*0702 are associated with AD in the Oxford population. Because of the contradictions between cohorts in our previous study, we suggest that these results may be geographically specific. This might be because of differences between populations in the structure of linkage disequilibrium or in interactions with environmental, genetic or epigenetic factors. A much larger study will be needed to clarify the role of homozygosity of HLA alleles in AD risk.
PMCID: PMC1764414  PMID: 17176470
5.  Evolution and comparative analysis of the MHC Class III inflammatory region 
BMC Genomics  2006;7:281.
The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is essential for immune function. Historically, it has been subdivided into three regions (Class I, II, and III), but a cluster of functionally related genes within the Class III region has also been referred to as the Class IV region or "inflammatory region". This group of genes is involved in the inflammatory response, and includes members of the tumour necrosis family. Here we report the sequencing, annotation and comparative analysis of a tammar wallaby BAC containing the inflammatory region. We also discuss the extent of sequence conservation across the entire region and identify elements conserved in evolution.
Fourteen Class III genes from the tammar wallaby inflammatory region were characterised and compared to their orthologues in other vertebrates. The organisation and sequence of genes in the inflammatory region of both the wallaby and South American opossum are highly conserved compared to known genes from eutherian ("placental") mammals. Some minor differences separate the two marsupial species. Eight genes within the inflammatory region have remained tightly clustered for at least 360 million years, predating the divergence of the amphibian lineage. Analysis of sequence conservation identified 354 elements that are conserved. These range in size from 7 to 431 bases and cover 15.6% of the inflammatory region, representing approximately a 4-fold increase compared to the average for vertebrate genomes. About 5.5% of this conserved sequence is marsupial-specific, including three cases of marsupial-specific repeats. Highly Conserved Elements were also characterised.
Using comparative analysis, we show that a cluster of MHC genes involved in inflammation, including TNF, LTA (or its putative teleost homolog TNF-N), APOM, and BAT3 have remained together for over 450 million years, predating the divergence of mammals from fish. The observed enrichment in conserved sequences within the inflammatory region suggests conservation at the transcriptional regulatory level, in addition to the functional level.
PMCID: PMC1654159  PMID: 17081307
6.  Identification of the ancestral killer immunoglobulin-like receptor gene in primates 
BMC Genomics  2006;7:209.
Killer Immunoglobulin-like Receptors (KIR) are essential immuno-surveillance molecules. They are expressed on natural killer and T cells, and interact with human leukocyte antigens. KIR genes are highly polymorphic and contribute vital variability to our immune system. Numerous KIR genes, belonging to five distinct lineages, have been identified in all primates examined thus far and shown to be rapidly evolving. Since few KIR remain orthologous between species, with only one of them, KIR2DL4, shown to be common to human, apes and monkeys, the evolution of the KIR gene family in primates remains unclear.
Using comparative analyses, we have identified the ancestral KIR lineage (provisionally named KIR3DL0) in primates. We show KIR3DL0 to be highly conserved with the identification of orthologues in human (Homo sapiens), common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) and common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus). We predict KIR3DL0 to encode a functional molecule in all primates by demonstrating expression in human, chimpanzee and rhesus monkey. Using the rhesus monkey as a model, we further show the expression profile to be typical of KIR by quantitative measurement of KIR3DL0 from an enriched population of natural killer cells.
One reason why KIR3DL0 may have escaped discovery for so long is that, in human, it maps in between two related leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor clusters outside the known KIR gene cluster on Chromosome 19. Based on genomic, cDNA, expression and phylogenetic data, we report a novel lineage of immunoglobulin receptors belonging to the KIR family, which is highly conserved throughout 50 million years of primate evolution.
PMCID: PMC1559706  PMID: 16911775
7.  The Leukocyte Receptor Complex in Chicken Is Characterized by Massive Expansion and Diversification of Immunoglobulin-Like Loci 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(5):e73.
The innate and adaptive immune systems of vertebrates possess complementary, but intertwined functions within immune responses. Receptors of the mammalian innate immune system play an essential role in the detection of infected or transformed cells and are vital for the initiation and regulation of a full adaptive immune response. The genes for several of these receptors are clustered within the leukocyte receptor complex (LRC). The purpose of this study was to carry out a detailed analysis of the chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) LRC. Bacterial artificial chromosomes containing genes related to mammalian leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptors were identified in a chicken genomic library and shown to map to a single microchromosome. Sequencing revealed 103 chicken immunoglobulin-like receptor (CHIR) loci (22 inhibitory, 25 activating, 15 bifunctional, and 41 pseudogenes). A very complex splicing pattern was found using transcript analyses and seven hypervariable regions were detected in the external CHIR domains. Phylogenetic and genomic analysis showed that CHIR genes evolved mainly by block duplications from an ancestral inhibitory receptor locus, with transformation into activating receptors occurring more than once. Evolutionary selection pressure has led not only to an exceptional expansion of the CHIR cluster but also to a dramatic diversification of CHIR loci and haplotypes. This indicates that CHIRs have the potential to complement the adaptive immune system in fighting pathogens.
The immune system developed to cope with a diverse array of pathogens, including infectious organisms. The detection of these pathogens by cells of the immune system is mediated by a large set of specific receptor proteins. Here the authors seek to understand how a particular subset of cell surface receptors of the domestic chicken, the chicken Ig-like receptors (CHIR), has evolved. They demonstrate that at least 103 such receptor loci are clustered on a single microchromosome and provide the first detailed analysis of this region. The sequences of the CHIR genes suggest the presence of inhibitory, activating, and bifunctional receptors, as well as numerous incomplete loci (pseudogenes) that appear to have evolved by duplications of an ancestral inhibitory receptor gene. Multiple regions of very high sequence variability were also identified within CHIR loci which, together with considerable expansion of the number of these genes, suggest that CHIR polypeptides are involved in critical functions in the immune system of the chicken.
PMCID: PMC1458963  PMID: 16699593
8.  Genetic Analysis of Completely Sequenced Disease-Associated MHC Haplotypes Identifies Shuffling of Segments in Recent Human History 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(1):e9.
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is recognised as one of the most important genetic regions in relation to common human disease. Advancement in identification of MHC genes that confer susceptibility to disease requires greater knowledge of sequence variation across the complex. Highly duplicated and polymorphic regions of the human genome such as the MHC are, however, somewhat refractory to some whole-genome analysis methods. To address this issue, we are employing a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) cloning strategy to sequence entire MHC haplotypes from consanguineous cell lines as part of the MHC Haplotype Project. Here we present 4.25 Mb of the human haplotype QBL (HLA-A26-B18-Cw5-DR3-DQ2) and compare it with the MHC reference haplotype and with a second haplotype, COX (HLA-A1-B8-Cw7-DR3-DQ2), that shares the same HLA-DRB1, -DQA1, and -DQB1 alleles. We have defined the complete gene, splice variant, and sequence variation contents of all three haplotypes, comprising over 259 annotated loci and over 20,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Certain coding sequences vary significantly between different haplotypes, making them candidates for functional and disease-association studies. Analysis of the two DR3 haplotypes allowed delineation of the shared sequence between two HLA class II–related haplotypes differing in disease associations and the identification of at least one of the sites that mediated the original recombination event. The levels of variation across the MHC were similar to those seen for other HLA-disparate haplotypes, except for a 158-kb segment that contained the HLA-DRB1, -DQA1, and -DQB1 genes and showed very limited polymorphism compatible with identity-by-descent and relatively recent common ancestry (<3,400 generations). These results indicate that the differential disease associations of these two DR3 haplotypes are due to sequence variation outside this central 158-kb segment, and that shuffling of ancestral blocks via recombination is a potential mechanism whereby certain DR–DQ allelic combinations, which presumably have favoured immunological functions, can spread across haplotypes and populations.
A group of genes involved in the human immune system are contained within a surprisingly short section of Chromosome 6 that has long been recognised as the most important genomic region in relation to disease susceptibility. Discerning the actual genes playing a role in disease has proved difficult mainly because the region contains numerous genes and is also the most genetically variable in the genome. Within this jungle of variation, the research reported here has identified and characterised a discrete segment shared by two individuals that is virtually devoid of variation—a polymorphism desert. The conservation of this segment amongst a background of extreme variation suggests both an ancient origin and genetic exchange in early human history. These observations are important in evolutionary terms as they reveal a potential mechanism whereby certain genetic segments associated with favourable immune functions have spread across human populations. Within medical terms this may also explain contrasting disease risks in people from different ethnic backgrounds. Public access to these data will help researchers find specific variants conferring disease susceptibility or resistance and, as in this report, rule out regions for conveying specificity to certain diseases.
PMCID: PMC1331980  PMID: 16440057
9.  Immunogenomics: Molecular hide and seek 
Human Genomics  2006;2(4):244-251.
Similar to other classical science disciplines, immunology has been embracing novel technologies and approaches giving rise to specialised sub-disciplines such as immunogenetics and, more recently, immunogenomics, which, in many ways, is the genome-wide application of immunogenetic approaches. Here, recent progress in the understanding of the immune sub-genome will be reviewed, and the ways in which immunogenomic datasets consisting of genetic and epigenetic variation, linkage disequilibrium and recombination can be harnessed for disease association and evolutionary studies will be discussed. The discussion will focus on data available for the major histocompatibility complex and the leukocyte receptor complex, the two most polymorphic regions of the human immune sub-genome.
PMCID: PMC3525153  PMID: 16460649
immunogenomics; immunogenetics; major histocompatibility complex (MHC); recombination; linkage disequilibrium; epigenetics

Results 1-9 (9)