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1.  Glycosylation of Immunoglobulin G: Role of Genetic and Epigenetic Influences 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82558.
To determine the extent to which genetic and epigenetic factors contribute to variations in glycosylation of immunoglobulin G (IgG) in humans.
76  N-glycan traits in circulating IgG were analyzed by UPLC in 220 monozygotic and 310 dizygotic twin pairs from TwinsUK. A classical twin study design was used to derive the additive genetic, common and unique environmental components defining the variance in these traits. Epigenome-wide association analysis was performed using the Illumina 27k chip.
51 of the 76 glycan traits studied have an additive genetic component (heritability, h2)≥  0.5. In contrast, 12 glycan traits had a low genetic contribution (h2<0.35). We then tested for association between methylation levels and glycan levels (P<2 x10-6). Among glycan traits with low heritability probe cg08392591 maps to a CpG island 5’ from the ANKRD11 gene, a p53 activator on chromosome 16. Probe cg26991199 maps to the SRSF10 gene involved in regulation of RNA splicing and particularly in regulation of splicing of mRNA precursors upon heat shock. Among those with high heritability we found cg13782134 (mapping to the NRN1L gene) and cg16029957 mapping near the QPCT gene to be array-wide significant. The proportion of array-wide epigenetic associations was significantly larger (P<0.005) among glycans with low heritability (42%) than in those with high heritability (6.2%).
Glycome analyses might provide a useful integration of genetic and non-genetic factors to further our understanding of the role of glycosylation in both normal physiology and disease.
PMCID: PMC3855797  PMID: 24324808
2.  Evaluation of Common Type 2 Diabetes Risk Variants in a South Asian Population of Sri Lankan Descent 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e98608.
Most studies seeking common variant associations with type 2 diabetes (T2D) have focused on individuals of European ancestry. These discoveries need to be evaluated in other major ancestral groups, to understand ethnic differences in predisposition, and establish whether these contribute to variation in T2D prevalence and presentation. This study aims to establish whether common variants conferring T2D-risk in Europeans contribute to T2D-susceptibility in the South Asian population of Sri Lanka.
Lead single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) at 37 T2D-risk loci attaining genome-wide significance in Europeans were genotyped in 878 T2D cases and 1523 normoglycaemic controls from Sri Lanka. Association testing was performed by logistic regression adjusting for age and sex and by the Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel test after stratifying according to self-identified ethnolinguistic subgroup. A weighted genetic risk score was generated to examine the combined effect of these SNPs on T2D-risk in the Sri Lankan population.
Of the 36 SNPs passing quality control, sixteen showed nominal (p<0.05) association in Sri Lankan samples, fifteen of those directionally-consistent with the original signal. Overall, these association findings were robust to analyses that accounted for membership of ethnolinguistic subgroups. Overall, the odds ratios for 31 of the 36 SNPs were directionally-consistent with those observed in Europeans (p = 3.2×10−6). Allelic odds ratios and risk allele frequencies in Sri Lankan subjects were not systematically different to those reported in Europeans. Genetic risk score and risk of T2D were strongly related in Sri Lankans (per allele OR 1.10 [95%CI 1.08–1.13], p = 1.2×10−17).
Our data indicate that most T2D-risk variants identified in Europeans have similar effects in South Asians from Sri Lanka, and that systematic difference in common variant associations are unlikely to explain inter-ethnic differences in prevalence or presentation of T2D.
PMCID: PMC4057178  PMID: 24926958
3.  Low Frequency Variants in the Exons Only Encoding Isoform A of HNF1A Do Not Contribute to Susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(8):e6615.
There is considerable interest in the hypothesis that low frequency, intermediate penetrance variants contribute to the proportion of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) susceptibility not attributable to the common variants uncovered through genome-wide association approaches. Genes previously implicated in monogenic and multifactorial forms of diabetes are obvious candidates in this respect. In this study, we focussed on exons 8–10 of the HNF1A gene since rare, penetrant mutations in these exons (which are only transcribed in selected HNF1A isoforms) are associated with a later age of diagnosis of Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) than mutations in exons 1–7. The age of diagnosis in the subgroup of HNF1A-MODY individuals with exon 8–10 mutations overlaps with that of early multifactorial T2D, and we set out to test the hypothesis that these exons might also harbour low-frequency coding variants of intermediate penetrance that contribute to risk of multifactorial T2D.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We performed targeted capillary resequencing of HNF1A exons 8–10 in 591 European T2D subjects enriched for genetic aetiology on the basis of an early age of diagnosis (≤45 years) and/or family history of T2D (≥1 affected sibling). PCR products were sequenced and compared to the published HNF1A sequence. We identified several variants (rs735396 [IVS9−24T>C], rs1169304 [IVS8+29T>C], c.1768+44C>T [IVS9+44C>T] and rs61953349 [c.1545G>A, p.T515T] but no novel non-synonymous coding variants were detected.
Conclusions and Significance
We conclude that low frequency, nonsynonymous coding variants in the terminal exons of HNF1A are unlikely to contribute to T2D-susceptibility in European samples. Nevertheless, the rationale for seeking low-frequency causal variants in genes known to contain rare, penetrant mutations remains strong and should motivate efforts to screen other genes in a similar fashion.
PMCID: PMC2720540  PMID: 19672314
4.  BMI-Associated Alleles Do Not Constitute Risk Alleles for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Independently of BMI: A Case-Control Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87335.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) has a strong genetic background and the majority of patients with PCOS have elevated BMI levels. The aim of this study was to determine to which extent BMI-increasing alleles contribute to risk of PCOS when contemporaneous BMI is taken into consideration.
Patients with PCOS and controls were recruited from the United Kingdom (563 cases and 791 controls) and The Netherlands (510 cases and 2720 controls). Cases and controls were of similar BMI. SNPs mapping to 12 BMI-associated loci which have been extensively replicated across different ethnicities, i.e., BDNF, FAIM2, ETV5, FTO, GNPDA2, KCTD15, MC4R, MTCH2, NEGR1, SEC16B, SH2B1, and TMEM18, were studied in association with PCOS within each cohort using the additive genetic model followed by a combined analysis. A genetic allelic count risk score model was used to determine the risk of PCOS for individuals carrying increasing numbers of BMI-increasing alleles.
None of the genetic variants, including FTO and MC4R, was associated with PCOS independently of BMI in the meta-analysis. Moreover, no differences were observed between cases and controls in the number of BMI-risk alleles present and no overall trend across the risk score groups was observed.
In this combined analysis of over 4,000 BMI-matched individuals from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, we observed no association of BMI risk alleles with PCOS independent of BMI.
PMCID: PMC3909077  PMID: 24498077
5.  Contribution of 32 GWAS-Identified Common Variants to Severe Obesity in European Adults Referred for Bariatric Surgery 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e70735.
The prevalence of severe obesity, defined as body mass index (BMI) ≥35.0 kg/m2, is rising rapidly. Given the disproportionately high health burden and healthcare costs associated with this condition, understanding the underlying aetiology, including predisposing genetic factors, is a biomedical research priority. Previous studies have suggested that severe obesity represents an extreme tail of the population BMI variation, reflecting shared genetic factors operating across the spectrum. Here, we sought to determine whether a panel of 32 known common obesity-susceptibility variants contribute to severe obesity in patients (n = 1,003, mean BMI 48.4±8.1 kg/m2) attending bariatric surgery clinics in two European centres. We examined the effects of these 32 common variants on obesity risk and BMI, both as individual markers and in combination as a genetic risk score, in a comparison with normal-weight controls (n = 1,809, BMI 18.0–24.9 kg/m2); an approach which, to our knowledge, has not been previously undertaken in the setting of a bariatric clinic. We found strong associations with severe obesity for SNP rs9939609 within the FTO gene (P = 9.3×10−8) and SNP rs2815752 near the NEGR1 gene (P = 3.6×10−4), and directionally consistent nominal associations (P<0.05) for 12 other SNPs. The genetic risk score associated with severe obesity (P = 8.3×10−11) but, within the bariatric cohort, this score did not associate with BMI itself (P = 0.264). Our results show significant effects of individual BMI-associated common variants within a relatively small sample size of bariatric patients. Furthermore, the burden of such low-penetrant risk alleles contributes to severe obesity in this population. Our findings support that severe obesity observed in bariatric patients represents an extreme tail of the population BMI variation. Moreover, future genetic studies focused on bariatric patients may provide valuable insights into the pathogenesis of obesity at a population level.
PMCID: PMC3737377  PMID: 23950990
6.  The Presence of Methylation Quantitative Trait Loci Indicates a Direct Genetic Influence on the Level of DNA Methylation in Adipose Tissue 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55923.
Genetic variants that associate with DNA methylation at CpG sites (methylation quantitative trait loci, meQTLs) offer a potential biological mechanism of action for disease associated SNPs. We investigated whether meQTLs exist in abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and if CpG methylation associates with metabolic syndrome (MetSyn) phenotypes. We profiled 27,718 genomic regions in abdominal SAT samples of 38 unrelated individuals using differential methylation hybridization (DMH) together with genotypes at 5,227,243 SNPs and expression of 17,209 mRNA transcripts. Validation and replication of significant meQTLs was pursued in an independent cohort of 181 female twins. We find that, at 5% false discovery rate, methylation levels of 149 DMH regions associate with at least one SNP in a ±500 kilobase cis-region in our primary study. We sought to validate 19 of these in the replication study and find that five of these significantly associate with the corresponding meQTL SNPs from the primary study. We find that none of the 149 meQTL top SNPs is a significant expression quantitative trait locus in our expression data, but we observed association between expression levels of two mRNA transcripts and cis-methylation status. Our results indicate that DNA CpG methylation in abdominal SAT is partly under genetic control. This study provides a starting point for future investigations of DNA methylation in adipose tissue.
PMCID: PMC3576415  PMID: 23431366
7.  The miRNA Profile of Human Pancreatic Islets and Beta-Cells and Relationship to Type 2 Diabetes Pathogenesis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55272.
Recent advances in the understanding of the genetics of type 2 diabetes (T2D) susceptibility have focused attention on the regulation of transcriptional activity within the pancreatic beta-cell. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) represent an important component of regulatory control, and have proven roles in the development of human disease and control of glucose homeostasis. We set out to establish the miRNA profile of human pancreatic islets and of enriched beta-cell populations, and to explore their potential involvement in T2D susceptibility. We used Illumina small RNA sequencing to profile the miRNA fraction in three preparations each of primary human islets and of enriched beta-cells generated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. In total, 366 miRNAs were found to be expressed (i.e. >100 cumulative reads) in islets and 346 in beta-cells; of the total of 384 unique miRNAs, 328 were shared. A comparison of the islet-cell miRNA profile with those of 15 other human tissues identified 40 miRNAs predominantly expressed (i.e. >50% of all reads seen across the tissues) in islets. Several highly-expressed islet miRNAs, such as miR-375, have established roles in the regulation of islet function, but others (e.g. miR-27b-3p, miR-192-5p) have not previously been described in the context of islet biology. As a first step towards exploring the role of islet-expressed miRNAs and their predicted mRNA targets in T2D pathogenesis, we looked at published T2D association signals across these sites. We found evidence that predicted mRNA targets of islet-expressed miRNAs were globally enriched for signals of T2D association (p-values <0.01, q-values <0.1). At six loci with genome-wide evidence for T2D association (AP3S2, KCNK16, NOTCH2, SCL30A8, VPS26A, and WFS1) predicted mRNA target sites for islet-expressed miRNAs overlapped potentially causal variants. In conclusion, we have described the miRNA profile of human islets and beta-cells and provide evidence linking islet miRNAs to T2D pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3555946  PMID: 23372846
8.  Metabolic Profiling in Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) and Young Onset Type 2 Diabetes Fails to Detect Robust Urinary Biomarkers 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40962.
It is important to identify patients with Maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) as a molecular diagnosis determines both treatment and prognosis. Genetic testing is currently expensive and many patients are therefore not assessed and are misclassified as having either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Biomarkers could facilitate the prioritisation of patients for genetic testing. We hypothesised that patients with different underlying genetic aetiologies for their diabetes could have distinct metabolic profiles which may uncover novel biomarkers. The aim of this study was to perform metabolic profiling in urine from patients with MODY due to mutations in the genes encoding glucokinase (GCK) or hepatocyte nuclear factor 1 alpha (HNF1A), type 2 diabetes (T2D) and normoglycaemic control subjects. Urinary metabolic profiling by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and ultra performance liquid chromatography hyphenated to Q-TOF mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS) was performed in a Discovery set of subjects with HNF1A-MODY (n = 14), GCK-MODY (n = 17), T2D (n = 14) and normoglycaemic controls (n = 34). Data were used to build a valid partial least squares discriminate analysis (PLS-DA) model where HNF1A-MODY subjects could be separated from the other diabetes subtypes. No single metabolite contributed significantly to the separation of the patient groups. However, betaine, valine, glycine and glucose were elevated in the urine of HNF1A-MODY subjects compared to the other subgroups. Direct measurements of urinary amino acids and betaine in an extended dataset did not support differences between patients groups. Elevated urinary glucose in HNF1A-MODY is consistent with the previously reported low renal threshold for glucose in this genetic subtype. In conclusion, we report the first metabolic profiling study in monogenic diabetes and show that, despite the distinct biochemical pathways affected, there are unlikely to be robust urinary biomarkers which distinguish monogenic subtypes from T2D. Our results have implications for studies investigating metabolic profiles in complex traits including T2D.
PMCID: PMC3408469  PMID: 22859960
9.  Association of the CpG Methylation Pattern of the Proximal Insulin Gene Promoter with Type 1 Diabetes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36278.
The insulin (INS) region is the second most important locus associated with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). The study of the DNA methylation pattern of the 7 CpGs proximal to the TSS in the INS gene promoter revealed that T1D patients have a lower level of methylation of CpG -19, -135 and -234 (p = 2.10−16) and a higher methylation of CpG -180 than controls, while methylation was comparable for CpG -69, -102, -206. The magnitude of the hypomethylation relative to a control population was 8–15% of the corresponding levels in controls and was correlated in CpGs -19 and -135 (r = 0.77) and CpG -135 and -234 (r = 0.65). 70/485 (14%) of T1D patients had a simultaneous decrease in methylation of CpG -19, -135, -234 versus none in 317 controls. CpG methylation did not correlate with glycated hemoglobin or with T1D duration. The methylation of CpG -69, -102, -180, -206, but not CpG -19, -135, -234 was strongly influenced by the cis-genotype at rs689, a SNP known to show a strong association with T1D. We hypothesize that part of this genetic association could in fact be mediated at the statistical and functional level by the underlying changes in neighboring CpG methylation. Our observation of a CpG-specific, locus-specific methylation pattern, although it can provide an epigenetic biomarker of a multifactorial disease, does not indicate whether the reported epigenetic pattern preexists or follows the establishment of T1D. To explore the effect of chronic hyperglycemia on CpG methylation, we studied non obese patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D) who were found to have decreased CpG-19 methylation versus age-matched controls, similar to T1D (p = 2.10−6) but increased CpG-234 methylation (p = 5.10−8), the opposite of T1D. The causality and natural history of the different epigenetic changes associated with T1D or T2D remain to be determined.
PMCID: PMC3342174  PMID: 22567146
10.  Amerind Ancestry, Socioeconomic Status and the Genetics of Type 2 Diabetes in a Colombian Population 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e33570.
The “thrifty genotype” hypothesis proposes that the high prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D) in Native Americans and admixed Latin Americans has a genetic basis and reflects an evolutionary adaptation to a past low calorie/high exercise lifestyle. However, identification of the gene variants underpinning this hypothesis remains elusive. Here we assessed the role of Native American ancestry, socioeconomic status (SES) and 21 candidate gene loci in susceptibility to T2D in a sample of 876 T2D cases and 399 controls from Antioquia (Colombia). Although mean Native American ancestry is significantly higher in T2D cases than in controls (32% v 29%), this difference is confounded by the correlation of ancestry with SES, which is a stronger predictor of disease status. Nominally significant association (P<0.05) was observed for markers in: TCF7L2, RBMS1, CDKAL1, ZNF239, KCNQ1 and TCF1 and a significant bias (P<0.05) towards OR>1 was observed for markers selected from previous T2D genome-wide association studies, consistent with a role for Old World variants in susceptibility to T2D in Latin Americans. No association was found to the only known Native American-specific gene variant previously associated with T2D in a Mexican sample (rs9282541 in ABCA1). An admixture mapping scan with 1,536 ancestry informative markers (AIMs) did not identify genome regions with significant deviation of ancestry in Antioquia. Exclusion analysis indicates that this scan rules out ∼95% of the genome as harboring loci with ancestry risk ratios >1.22 (at P < 0.05).
PMCID: PMC3328483  PMID: 22529894
11.  MicroRNA Expression in Abdominal and Gluteal Adipose Tissue Is Associated with mRNA Expression Levels and Partly Genetically Driven 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27338.
To understand how miRNAs contribute to the molecular phenotype of adipose tissues and related traits, we performed global miRNA expression profiling in subcutaneous abdominal and gluteal adipose tissue of 70 human subjects and characterised which miRNAs were differentially expressed between these tissues. We found that 12% of the miRNAs were significantly differentially expressed between abdominal and gluteal adipose tissue (FDR adjusted p<0.05) in the primary study, of which 59 replicated in a follow-up study of 40 additional subjects. Further, 14 miRNAs were found to be associated with metabolic syndrome case-control status in abdominal tissue and three of these replicated (primary study: FDR adjusted p<0.05, replication: p<0.05 and directionally consistent effect). Genome-wide genotyping was performed in the 70 subjects to enable miRNA expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) analysis. Candidate miRNA eQTLs were followed-up in the additional 40 subjects and six significant, independent cis-located miRNA eQTLs (primary study: p<0.001; replication: p<0.05 and directionally consistent effect) were identified. Finally, global mRNA expression profiling was performed in both tissues to enable association analysis between miRNA and target mRNA expression levels. We find 22% miRNAs in abdominal and 9% miRNAs in gluteal adipose tissue with expression levels significantly associated with the expression of corresponding target mRNAs (FDR adjusted p<0.05). Taken together, our results indicate a clear difference in the miRNA molecular phenotypic profile of abdominal and gluteal adipose tissue, that the expressions of some miRNAs are influenced by cis-located genetic variants and that miRNAs are associated with expression levels of their predicted mRNA targets.
PMCID: PMC3216936  PMID: 22102887
12.  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
13.  Evaluation of Association of HNF1B Variants with Diverse Cancers: Collaborative Analysis of Data from 19 Genome-Wide Association Studies 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10858.
Genome-wide association studies have found type 2 diabetes-associated variants in the HNF1B gene to exhibit reciprocal associations with prostate cancer risk. We aimed to identify whether these variants may have an effect on cancer risk in general versus a specific effect on prostate cancer only.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In a collaborative analysis, we collected data from GWAS of cancer phenotypes for the frequently reported variants of HNF1B, rs4430796 and rs7501939, which are in linkage disequilibrium (r2 = 0.76, HapMap CEU). Overall, the analysis included 16 datasets on rs4430796 with 19,640 cancer cases and 21,929 controls; and 21 datasets on rs7501939 with 26,923 cases and 49,085 controls. Malignancies other than prostate cancer included colorectal, breast, lung and pancreatic cancers, and melanoma. Meta-analysis showed large between-dataset heterogeneity that was driven by different effects in prostate cancer and other cancers. The per-T2D-risk-allele odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) for rs4430796 were 0.79 (0.76, 0.83)] per G allele for prostate cancer (p<10−15 for both); and 1.03 (0.99, 1.07) for all other cancers. Similarly for rs7501939 the per-T2D-risk-allele odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) were 0.80 (0.77, 0.83) per T allele for prostate cancer (p<10−15 for both); and 1.00 (0.97, 1.04) for all other cancers. No malignancy other than prostate cancer had a nominally statistically significant association.
The examined HNF1B variants have a highly specific effect on prostate cancer risk with no apparent association with any of the other studied cancer types.
PMCID: PMC2878330  PMID: 20526366

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