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1.  An Association between l-Arginine/Asymmetric Dimethyl Arginine Balance, Obesity, and the Age of Asthma Onset Phenotype 
Rationale: Increasing body mass index (BMI) has been associated with less fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO). This may be explained by an increase in the concentration of asymmetric dimethyl arginine (ADMA) relative to l-arginine, which can lead to greater nitric oxide synthase uncoupling.
Objectives: To compare this mechanism across age of asthma onset groups and determine its association with asthma morbidity and lung function.
Methods: Cross-sectional study of participants from the Severe Asthma Research Program, across early- (<12 yr) and late- (>12 yr) onset asthma phenotypes.
Measurements and Main Results: Subjects with late-onset asthma had a higher median plasma ADMA level (0.48 μM, [interquartile range (IQR), 0.35–0.7] compared with early onset, 0.37 μM [IQR, 0.29–0.59], P = 0.01) and lower median plasma l-arginine (late onset, 52.3 [IQR, 43–61] compared with early onset, 51 μM [IQR 39–66]; P = 0.02). The log of plasma l-arginine/ADMA was inversely correlated with BMI in the late- (r = −0.4, P = 0.0006) in contrast to the early-onset phenotype (r = −0.2, P = 0.07). Although FeNO was inversely associated with BMI in the late-onset phenotype (P = 0.02), the relationship was lost after adjusting for l-arginine/ADMA. Also in this phenotype, a reduced l-arginine/ADMA was associated with less IgE, increased respiratory symptoms, lower lung volumes, and worse asthma quality of life.
Conclusions: In late-onset asthma phenotype, plasma ratios of l-arginine to ADMA may explain the inverse relationship of BMI to FeNO. In addition, these lower l-arginine/ADMA ratios are associated with reduced lung function and increased respiratory symptom frequency, suggesting a role in the pathobiology of the late-onset phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3570651  PMID: 23204252
asthma; obesity; age of asthma onset; ADMA; arginine
2.  Severe Asthma 
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP) has characterized over the past 10 years 1,644 patients with asthma, including 583 individuals with severe asthma. SARP collaboration has led to a rapid recruitment of subjects and efficient sharing of samples among participating sites to conduct independent mechanistic investigations of severe asthma. Enrolled SARP subjects underwent detailed clinical, physiologic, genomic, and radiological evaluations. In addition, SARP investigators developed safe procedures for bronchoscopy in participants with asthma, including those with severe disease. SARP studies revealed that severe asthma is a heterogeneous disease with varying molecular, biochemical, and cellular inflammatory features and unique structure–function abnormalities. Priorities for future studies include recruitment of a larger number of subjects with severe asthma, including children, to allow further characterization of anatomic, physiologic, biochemical, and genetic factors related to severe disease in a longitudinal assessment to identify factors that modulate the natural history of severe asthma and provide mechanistic rationale for management strategies.
PMCID: PMC3297096  PMID: 22095547
asthma; remodeling; inflammation; bronchoscopy; imaging
3.  Regulatory Haplotypes in ARG1 Are Associated with Altered Bronchodilator Response 
Rationale: β2-agonists, the most common treatment for asthma, have a wide interindividual variability in response, which is partially attributed to genetic factors. We previously identified single nucleotide polymorphisms in the arginase 1 (ARG1) gene, which are associated with β2-agonist bronchodilator response (BDR).
Objectives: To identify cis-acting haplotypes in the ARG1 locus that are associated with BDR in patients with asthma and regulate gene expression in vitro.
Methods: We resequenced ARG1 in 96 individuals and identified three common, 5′ haplotypes (denoted 1, 2, and 3). A haplotype-based association analysis of BDR was performed in three independent, adult asthma drug trial populations. Next, each haplotype was cloned into vectors containing a luciferase reporter gene and transfected into human airway epithelial cells (BEAS-2B) to ascertain its effect on gene expression.
Measurements and Main Results: BDR varied by haplotype in each of the three populations with asthma. Individuals with haplotype 1 were more likely to have higher BDR, compared to those with haplotypes 2 and 3, which is supported by odds ratios of 1.25 (95% confidence interval, 1.03–1.71) and 2.18 (95% confidence interval, 1.34–2.52), respectively. Luciferase expression was 50% greater in cells transfected with haplotype 1 compared to haplotypes 2 and 3.
Conclusions: The identified ARG1 haplotypes seem to alter BDR and differentially regulate gene expression with a concordance of decreased BDR and reporter activity from haplotypes 2 and 3. These findings may facilitate pharmacogenetic tests to predict individuals who may benefit from other therapeutic agents in addition to β2-agonists for optimal asthma management.
Clinical trial registered with (NCT00156819, NCT00046644, and NCT00073840).
PMCID: PMC3056223  PMID: 20851928
pharmacogenetics; asthma; β2-agonist
4.  Identification of Asthma Phenotypes Using Cluster Analysis in the Severe Asthma Research Program 
Rationale: The Severe Asthma Research Program cohort includes subjects with persistent asthma who have undergone detailed phenotypic characterization. Previous univariate methods compared features of mild, moderate, and severe asthma.
Objectives: To identify novel asthma phenotypes using an unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis.
Methods: Reduction of the initial 628 variables to 34 core variables was achieved by elimination of redundant data and transformation of categorical variables into ranked ordinal composite variables. Cluster analysis was performed on 726 subjects.
Measurements and Main Results: Five groups were identified. Subjects in Cluster 1 (n = 110) have early onset atopic asthma with normal lung function treated with two or fewer controller medications (82%) and minimal health care utilization. Cluster 2 (n = 321) consists of subjects with early-onset atopic asthma and preserved lung function but increased medication requirements (29% on three or more medications) and health care utilization. Cluster 3 (n = 59) is a unique group of mostly older obese women with late-onset nonatopic asthma, moderate reductions in FEV1, and frequent oral corticosteroid use to manage exacerbations. Subjects in Clusters 4 (n = 120) and 5 (n = 116) have severe airflow obstruction with bronchodilator responsiveness but differ in to their ability to attain normal lung function, age of asthma onset, atopic status, and use of oral corticosteroids.
Conclusions: Five distinct clinical phenotypes of asthma have been identified using unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis. All clusters contain subjects who meet the American Thoracic Society definition of severe asthma, which supports clinical heterogeneity in asthma and the need for new approaches for the classification of disease severity in asthma.
PMCID: PMC2822971  PMID: 19892860
asthma phenotype; definition; cluster analysis; severe asthma
5.  Identification of PCDH1 as a Novel Susceptibility Gene for Bronchial Hyperresponsiveness 
Rationale: Asthma is a chronic inflammatory airway disease that affects more than 300 million individuals worldwide. Asthma is caused by interaction of genetic and environmental factors. Bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) is a hallmark of asthma and results from increased sensitivity of the airways to physical or chemical stimulants. BHR and asthma are linked to chromosome 5q31-q33.
Objectives: To identify a gene for BHR on chromosome 5q31-q33.
Methods: In 200 Dutch families with asthma, linkage analysis and fine mapping were performed, and the Protocadherin 1 gene (PCDH1) was identified. PCDH1 was resequenced in 96 subjects from ethnically diverse populations to identify novel sequence variants. Subsequent replication studies were undertaken in seven populations from The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, including two general population samples, two family samples, and three case-control samples. PCDH1 mRNA and protein expression was investigated using polymerase chain reaction, Western blotting, and immunohistochemistry.
Measurements and Main Results: In seven out of eight populations (n = 6,168) from The Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States, PCHD1 gene variants were significantly associated with BHR (P values, 0.005–0.05) This association was present in both families with asthma and general populations. PCDH1 mRNA and protein were expressed in airway epithelial cells and in macrophages.
Conclusions: PCDH1 is a novel gene for BHR in adults and children. The identification of PCDH1 as a BHR susceptibility gene may suggest that a structural defect in the integrity of the airway epithelium, the first line of defense against inhaled substances, contributes to the development of BHR.
PMCID: PMC2778155  PMID: 19729670
bronchial hyperresponsiveness; asthma genetics; protocadherin-1; cell adhesion; airway epithelium
6.  ARG1 Is a Novel Bronchodilator Response Gene 
Rationale: Inhaled β-agonists are one of the most widely used classes of drugs for the treatment of asthma. However, a substantial proportion of patients with asthma do not have a favorable response to these drugs, and identifying genetic determinants of drug response may aid in tailoring treatment for individual patients.
Objectives: To screen variants in candidate genes in the steroid and β-adrenergic pathways for association with response to inhaled β-agonists.
Methods: We genotyped 844 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 111 candidate genes in 209 children and their parents participating in the Childhood Asthma Management Program. We screened the association of these SNPs with acute response to inhaled β-agonists (bronchodilator response [BDR]) using a novel algorithm implemented in a family-based association test that ranked SNPs in order of statistical power. Genes that had SNPs with median power in the highest quartile were then taken for replication analyses in three other asthma cohorts.
Measurements and Main Results: We identified 17 genes from the screening algorithm and genotyped 99 SNPs from these genes in a second population of patients with asthma. We then genotyped 63 SNPs from four genes with significant associations with BDR, for replication in a third and fourth population of patients with asthma. Evidence for association from the four asthma cohorts was combined, and SNPs from ARG1 were significantly associated with BDR. SNP rs2781659 survived Bonferroni correction for multiple testing (combined P value = 0.00048, adjusted P value = 0.047).
Conclusions: These findings identify ARG1 as a novel gene for acute BDR in both children and adults with asthma.
PMCID: PMC2556451  PMID: 18617639
pharmacogenetics; asthma; bronchodilator agents
7.  Airway Lipoxin A4 Generation and Lipoxin A4 Receptor Expression Are Decreased in Severe Asthma 
Rationale: Airway inflammation is common in severe asthma despite antiinflammatory therapy with corticosteroids. Lipoxin A4 (LXA4) is an arachidonic acid–derived mediator that serves as an agonist for resolution of inflammation.
Objectives: Airway levels of LXA4, as well as the expression of lipoxin biosynthetic genes and receptors, in severe asthma.
Methods: Samples of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid were obtained from subjects with asthma and levels of LXA4 and related eicosanoids were measured. Expression of lipoxin biosynthetic genes was determined in whole blood, bronchoalveolar lavage cells, and endobronchial biopsies by quantitative polymerase chain reaction, and leukocyte LXA4 receptors were monitored by flow cytometry.
Measurements and Main Results: Individuals with severe asthma had significantly less LXA4 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluids (11.2 ± 2.1 pg/ml) than did subjects with nonsevere asthma (150.1 ± 38.5 pg/ml; P < 0.05). In contrast, levels of cysteinyl leukotrienes were increased in both asthma cohorts compared with healthy individuals. In severe asthma, 15-lipoxygenase-1 mean expression was decreased fivefold in bronchoalveolar lavage cells. In contrast, 15-lipoxgenase-1 was increased threefold in endobronchial biopsies, but expression of both 5-lipoxygenase and 15-lipoxygenase-2 in these samples was decreased. Cyclooxygenase-2 expression was decreased in all anatomic compartments sampled in severe asthma. Moreover, LXA4 receptor gene and protein expression were significantly decreased in severe asthma peripheral blood granulocytes.
Conclusions: Mechanisms underlying pathological airway responses in severe asthma include lipoxin underproduction with decreased expression of lipoxin biosynthetic enzymes and receptors. Together, these results indicate that severe asthma is characterized, in part, by defective lipoxin counterregulatory signaling circuits.
PMCID: PMC2542432  PMID: 18583575
severe asthma; lipoxins; eicosanoids
8.  IL4Rα Mutations Are Associated with Asthma Exacerbations and Mast Cell/IgE Expression 
Background: Severe asthma has been associated with severe exacerbations, lower lung function and greater tissue inflammation. Previous studies have suggested that mutations in interleukin-4 receptor α (IL4Rα) are associated with lower lung function, higher IgE, and a gain in receptor function. However, an effect on exacerbations and tissue inflammation has not been shown.
Hypothesis: Allelic substitutions in IL4Rα are associated with asthma exacerbations, lower lung function, and tissue inflammation, in particular to mast cells and IgE.
Methods: Two well-characterized cohorts of subjects with severe asthma were analyzed for five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in IL4Rα. These polymorphisms were compared with the history of severe asthma exacerbations and lung function. In the primary (National Jewish) cohort, these polymorphisms were also compared with endobronchial tissue inflammatory cells and local IgE.
Results: In both cohorts, the presence of the minor alleles at E375A and Q551R, which were more common in African Americans, was associated with a history of severe exacerbations and lower lung function. In the National Jewish cohort, the C allele at E375A was associated with higher tissue mast cells and higher levels of IgE bound to mast cells. The significance for most of these associations remained when whites (the larger racial subgroup) were analyzed separately.
Conclusions: SNPs in IL4Rα, which are more common in African Americans, are associated with severe asthma exacerbations, lower lung function, and increased mast cell–related tissue inflammation. Further studies of the impact of these mutations in African Americans and on receptor function are indicated.
PMCID: PMC1899282  PMID: 17170387
asthma; genetics; IL4Rα; exacerbations; mast cells; IgE
9.  Sequence, Haplotype, and Association Analysis of ADRβ2 in a Multiethnic Asthma Case-Control Study 
Rationale: The comprehensive evaluation of gene variation, haplotype structure, and linkage disequilibrium is important in understanding the function of β2-adrenergic receptor gene (ADRβ2) on disease susceptibility, pulmonary function, and therapeutic responses in different ethnic groups with asthma.
Objectives: To identify ADRβ2 polymorphisms and haplotype structure in white and African American subjects and to test for genotype and haplotype association with asthma phenotypes.
Methods: A 5.3-kb region of ADRβ2 was resequenced in 669 individuals from 429 whites and 240 African Americans. A total of 12 polymorphisms, representing an optimal haplotype tagging set, were genotyped in whites (338 patients and 326 control subjects) and African Americans (222 patients and 299 control subjects).
Results: A total of 49 polymorphisms were identified, 21 of which are novel; 31 polymorphisms (frequency > 0.03) were used to identify 24 haplotypes (frequency > 0.01) and assess linkage disequilibrium. Association with ratio (FEV1/FVC)2 for single-nucleotide polymorphism +79 (p < 0.05) was observed in African Americans. Significant haplotype association for (FEV1/FVC)2 was also observed in African Americans.
Conclusions: There are additional genetic variants besides +46 (Gly16Arg) that are important in determining asthma phenotypes. These data suggest that the length of a poly-C repeat (+1269) in the 3′ untranslated region of ADRβ2 may influence lung function, and may be important in delineating variation in β-agonist responses, especially in African Americans.
PMCID: PMC2648111  PMID: 16931635
asthma; β2-adrenergic receptor; β-agonist therapy; DNA polymorphisms; pharmacogenomics
10.  Genomewide Screen for Pulmonary Function in 200 Families Ascertained for Asthma 
Changes in pulmonary function are important in determining asthma outcome. Genetic factors may influence airway obstruction in asthma. We performed a genomewide screen in 200 families of probands objectively diagnosed with asthma in the 1960s to identify chromosomal regions related to changes in pre- and postbronchodilator lung function (FEV1, VC, and FEV1%VC) and assess influences of early-life smoke exposure. Smoking (pack-years), age, sex, and height were covariates in variance component analyses. Significant evidence for linkage of pre- and postbronchodilator FEV1%VC was obtained for chromosome 2q32 (LOD,4.9, increasing to 6.03 with additional fine-mapping markers, and 3.2, respectively). Linkage existed for chromosome 5q for pre- and postbronchodilator VC (likelihood of disease [LOD], 1.8 and 2.6, respectively). Results for pre- and postbronchodilator FEV1 were less significant (LOD, 1.5 and 1.6, chromosomes 11p and 10q, respectively). Results were not affected by passive smoke exposure. There is significant evidence for linkage of FEV1%VC to chromosome 2q32 in families of probands with asthma, 35 cM proximal from linkage previously observed in families of probands with early-onset chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Thus, there may be multiple genes on chromosome 2q that are important in determining presence and degree of airflow limitation in families ascertained for obstructive airway disease.
PMCID: PMC2718527  PMID: 15901612
asthma; function; genes; linkage; lung
11.  Differential Desensitization of Homozygous Haplotypes of the β2-Adrenergic Receptor in Lymphocytes 
Single-nucleotide polymorphisms of the β2-adrenergic receptor gene and its 5′ promoter have been associated with differences in receptor function and desensitization. Linkage disequilibrium may account for inconsistencies in reported effects of isolated polymorphisms. Therefore, we have investigated the three most common homozygous haplotypes of the β2-adrenergic receptor (position 19 [Cys/Arg] of the 5′ leader cistron and positions 16 [Arg/Gly] and 27 [Gln/Glu] of the receptor) for putative differences in agonist-induced desensitization. Lymphocytes of well defined nonasthmatic, nonallergic subjects homozygous for the haplotype CysGlyGln, ArgGlyGlu, or CysArgGln were isolated. Desensitization of (−)-isoproterenol–induced cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) accumulation and β2-adrenergic receptor sequestration and downregulation were measured in relation to β2-adrenergic receptor-mediated inhibition of IFN-γ and interleukin-5 production. We observed that lymphocytes of individuals bearing the CysGlyGln haplotype were more susceptible to desensitization of the β-agonist–induced cAMP response than those of individuals with the ArgGlyGlu or CysArgGln haplotype. The haplotype-dependent desensitization of β-agonist–induced cAMP response was not associated with haplotype-dependent β2-adrenergic receptor sequestration or downregulation. In addition, our data suggest reduced inhibition, in lymphocytes of subjects with the CysGlyGln haplotype, of interleukin-5 production induced by treatment with antibodies to the T-cell receptor–CD3 complex and to costimulatory molecule CD28 (αCD3/αCD28). This is the first study demonstrating haplotype-related differences in agonist-induced β2-adrenergic receptor desensitization in primary human cells. This haplotype-related desensitization of the β2-adrenergic receptor in lymphocytes might have consequences regarding the regulation of helper T-cell type 2 inflammatory responses.
PMCID: PMC2718471  PMID: 15879418
5′ leader cistron; cAMP; cytokine production; sequestration and downregulation; single-nucleotide polymorphism
12.  Correlation of Systemic Superoxide Dismutase Deficiency to Airflow Obstruction in Asthma 
Rationale: Increased oxidative stress and decreased superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity in the asthmatic airway are correlated to airflow limitation and hyperreactivity. We hypothesized that asthmatic individuals with higher levels of oxidative stress may have greater loss of SOD activity, which would be reflected systemically in loss of circulating SOD activity and clinically by development of severe asthma and/or worsening airflow limitation. Methods: To investigate this, serum SOD activity and proteins, the glutathione peroxidase/glutathione antioxidant system, and oxidatively modified amino acids were measured in subjects with asthma and healthy control subjects. Results: SOD activity, but not Mn-SOD or Cu,Zn-SOD protein, was lower in asthmatic serum as compared with control, and activity loss was significantly related to airflow limitation. Further, serum SOD activity demonstrated an inverse correlation with circulating levels of 3-bromotyrosine, a posttranslational modification of proteins produced by the eosinophil peroxidase system of eosinophils. Exposure of purified Cu,Zn-SOD to physiologically relevant levels of eosinophil peroxidase-generated reactive brominating species, reactive nitrogen species, or tyrosyl radicals in vitro confirmed that eosinophil-derived oxidative pathways promote enzyme inactivation. Conclusion: These findings are consistent with greater oxidant stress in asthma leading to greater inactivation of SOD, which likely amplifies inflammation and progressive airflow obstruction.
PMCID: PMC2718470  PMID: 15883124
asthma; superoxide dismutase; glutathione; pulmonary functions; peroxidase

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