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Human Molecular Genetics

Human Molecular Genetics - RSS feed of current issue

Mutations in GATA4 and TBX5 are associated with congenital heart defects in humans. Interaction between GATA4 and TBX5 is important for normal cardiac septation, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are not well understood. Here, we show that Gata4 and Tbx5 are co-expressed in the embryonic atria and ventricle, but after E15.5, ventricular expression of Tbx5 decreases. Co-localization and co-immunoprecipitation studies demonstrate an interaction of Gata4 and Tbx5 in the developing atria and ventricles, but the ventricular interaction declines after E14.5. Gata4+/–;Tbx5+/– mouse embryos display decreased atrial and ventricular myocardial thickness at E11.5, prior to cardiac septation. To determine the cell lineage in which the interaction was functionally significant in vivo, mice heterozygous for Gata4 in the myocardium or endocardium and heterozygous for Tbx5 (Gata4MyoDel/wt;Tbx5+/– and Gata4EndoDel/wt;Tbx5+/–, respectively) were generated. Gata4MyoDel/wt;Tbx5+/– mice displayed embryonic lethality, thin myocardium with reduced cell proliferation, and atrioventricular septation defects similar to Gata4;Tbx5 compound heterozygotes while Gata4EndoDel/wt;Tbx5+/– embryos were normal. Cdk4 and Cdk2, cyclin-dependent kinases required for myocardial development and septation were reduced in Gata4+/–;Tbx5+/– hearts. Cdk4 is a known direct target of Gata4 and the regulation of Cdk2 in the developing heart has not been studied. Chromatin immunoprecipitation and transactivation studies demonstrate that Gata4 and Tbx5 directly regulate Cdk4 while only Tbx5 activates Cdk2 expression. These findings highlight the mechanisms by which disruption of the Gata4 and Tbx5 interaction in the myocardium contributes to cardiac septation defects in humans.

Nucleotide repeat expansions can elicit neurodegeneration as RNA by sequestering specific RNA-binding proteins, preventing them from performing their normal functions. Conversely, mutations in RNA-binding proteins can trigger neurodegeneration at least partly by altering RNA metabolism. In Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), a CGG repeat expansion in the 5'UTR of the fragile X gene (FMR1) leads to progressive neurodegeneration in patients and CGG repeats in isolation elicit toxicity in Drosophila and other animal models. Here, we identify the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)-associated RNA-binding protein TAR DNA-binding protein (TDP-43) as a suppressor of CGG repeat-induced toxicity in a Drosophila model of FXTAS. The rescue appears specific to TDP-43, as co-expression of another ALS-associated RNA-binding protein, FUS, exacerbates the toxic effects of CGG repeats. Suppression of CGG RNA toxicity was abrogated by disease-associated mutations in TDP-43. TDP-43 does not co-localize with CGG RNA foci and its ability to bind RNA is not required for rescue. TDP-43-dependent rescue does, however, require fly hnRNP A2/B1 homologues Hrb87F and Hrb98DE. Deletions in the C-terminal domain of TDP-43 that preclude interactions with hnRNP A2/B1 abolish TDP-43-dependent rescue of CGG repeat toxicity. In contrast, suppression of CGG repeat toxicity by hnRNP A2/B1 is not affected by RNAi-mediated knockdown of the fly TDP-43 orthologue, TBPH. Lastly, TDP-43 suppresses CGG repeat-triggered mis-splicing of an hnRNP A2/B1-targeted transcript. These data support a model in which TDP-43 suppresses CGG-mediated toxicity through interactions with hnRNP A2/B1 and suggest a convergence of pathogenic cascades between repeat expansion disorders and RNA-binding proteins implicated in neurodegenerative disease.

Pseudohypoaldosteronism type II (PHAII) is a hereditary disease characterized by salt-sensitive hypertension, hyperkalemia and metabolic acidosis, and genes encoding with-no-lysine kinase 1 (WNK1) and WNK4 kinases are known to be responsible. Recently, Kelch-like 3 (KLHL3) and Cullin3, components of KLHL3-Cullin3 E3 ligase, were newly identified as responsible for PHAII. We have reported that WNK4 is the substrate of KLHL3-Cullin3 E3 ligase-mediated ubiquitination. However, WNK1 and Na–Cl cotransporter (NCC) were also reported to be a substrate of KLHL3-Cullin3 E3 ligase by other groups. Therefore, it remains unclear which molecule is the target(s) of KLHL3. To investigate the pathogenesis of PHAII caused by KLHL3 mutation, we generated and analyzed KLHL3R528H/+ knock-in mice. KLHL3R528H/+ knock-in mice exhibited salt-sensitive hypertension, hyperkalemia and metabolic acidosis. Moreover, the phosphorylation of NCC was increased in the KLHL3R528H/+ mouse kidney, indicating that the KLHL3R528H/+ knock-in mouse is an ideal mouse model of PHAII. Interestingly, the protein expression of both WNK1 and WNK4 was significantly increased in the KLHL3R528H/+ mouse kidney, confirming that increases in these WNK kinases activated the WNK-OSR1/SPAK-NCC phosphorylation cascade in KLHL3R528H/+ knock-in mice. To examine whether mutant KLHL3 R528H can interact with WNK kinases, we measured the binding of TAMRA-labeled WNK1 and WNK4 peptides to full-length KLHL3 using fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, and found that neither WNK1 nor WNK4 bound to mutant KLHL3 R528H. Thus, we found that increased protein expression levels of WNK1 and WNK4 kinases cause PHAII by KLHL3 R528H mutation due to impaired KLHL3-Cullin3-mediated ubiquitination.

Human serum uric acid concentration (SUA) is a complex trait. A recent meta-analysis of multiple genome-wide association studies (GWAS) identified 28 loci associated with SUA jointly explaining only 7.7% of the SUA variance, with 3.4% explained by two major loci (SLC2A9 and ABCG2). Here we examined whether gene–gene interactions had any roles in regulating SUA using two large GWAS cohorts included in the meta-analysis [the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study cohort (ARIC) and the Framingham Heart Study cohort (FHS)]. We found abundant genome-wide significant local interactions in ARIC in the 4p16.1 region located mostly in an intergenic area near SLC2A9 that were not driven by linkage disequilibrium and were replicated in FHS. Taking the forward selection approach, we constructed a model of five SNPs with marginal effects and three epistatic SNP pairs in ARIC—three marginal SNPs were located within SLC2A9 and the remaining SNPs were all located in the nearby intergenic area. The full model explained 1.5% more SUA variance than that explained by the lead SNP alone, but only 0.3% was contributed by the marginal and epistatic effects of the SNPs in the intergenic area. Functional analysis revealed strong evidence that the epistatically interacting SNPs in the intergenic area were unusually enriched at enhancers active in ENCODE hepatic (HepG2, P = 4.7E–05) and precursor red blood (K562, P = 5.0E–06) cells, putatively regulating transcription of WDR1 and SLC2A9. These results suggest that exploring epistatic interactions is valuable in uncovering the complex functional mechanisms underlying the 4p16.1 region.

Megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts (MLC) is a leukodystrophy characterized by myelin vacuolization and caused by mutations in MLC1 or GLIALCAM. Patients with recessive mutations in either MLC1 or GLIALCAM show the same clinical phenotype. It has been shown that GLIALCAM is necessary for the correct targeting of MLC1 to the membrane at cell junctions, but its own localization was independent of MLC1 in vitro. However, recent studies in Mlc1–/– mice have shown that GlialCAM is mislocalized in glial cells. In order to investigate whether the relationship between Mlc1 and GlialCAM is species-specific, we first identified MLC-related genes in zebrafish and generated an mlc1–/– zebrafish. We have characterized mlc1–/– zebrafish both functionally and histologically and compared the phenotype with that of the Mlc1–/– mice. In mlc1–/– zebrafish, as in Mlc1–/– mice, Glialcam is mislocalized. Re-examination of a brain biopsy from an MLC patient indicates that GLIALCAM is also mislocalized in Bergmann glia in the cerebellum. In vitro, impaired localization of GlialCAM was observed in astrocyte cultures from Mlc1–/– mouse only in the presence of elevated potassium levels, which mimics neuronal activity. In summary, here we demonstrate an evolutionary conserved role for MLC1 in regulating glial surface levels of GLIALCAM, and this interrelationship explains why patients with mutations in either gene (MLC1 or GLIALCAM) share the same clinical phenotype.

Congenital heart defects affect at least 0.8% of newborn children and are a major cause of lethality prior to birth. Malformations of the arterial pole are particularly frequent. The myocardium at the base of the pulmonary trunk and aorta and the arterial tree associated with these great arteries are derived from splanchnic mesoderm of the second heart field (SHF), an important source of cardiac progenitor cells. These cells are controlled by a gene regulatory network that includes Fgf8, Fgf10 and Tbx1. Prdm1 encodes a transcriptional repressor that we show is also expressed in the SHF. In mouse embryos, mutation of Prdm1 affects branchial arch development and leads to persistent truncus arteriosus (PTA), indicative of neural crest dysfunction. Using conditional mutants, we show that this is not due to a direct function of Prdm1 in neural crest cells. Mutation of Prdm1 in the SHF does not result in PTA, but leads to arterial pole defects, characterized by mis-alignment or reduction of the aorta and pulmonary trunk, and abnormalities in the arterial tree, defects that are preceded by a reduction in outflow tract size and loss of caudal pharyngeal arch arteries. These defects are associated with a reduction in proliferation of progenitor cells in the SHF. We have investigated genetic interactions with Fgf8 and Tbx1, and show that on a Tbx1 heterozygote background, conditional Prdm1 mutants have more pronounced arterial pole defects, now including PTA. Our results identify PRDM1 as a potential modifier of phenotypic severity in TBX1 haploinsufficient DiGeorge syndrome patients.

Prion diseases (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) are fatal neurodegenerative diseases, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, scrapie in sheep and bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle. While genome-wide association studies in human and quantitative trait loci mapping in mice have provided evidence for multiple susceptibility genes, few of these have been confirmed functionally. Phenotyping mouse models is generally the method of choice. However, this is not a feasible option where many novel genes, without pre-existing models, would need to be tested. We have therefore developed and applied an in-vitro screen to triage and prioritize candidate modifier genes for more detailed future studies which is faster, far more cost effective and ethical relative to mouse bioassay models. An in vitro prion bioassay, the scrapie cell assay, uses a neuroblastoma-derived cell line (PK1) that is susceptible to RML prions and able to propagate prions at high levels. In this study, we have generated stable gene silencing and/or overexpressing PK1-derived cell lines to test whether perturbation of 14 candidate genes affects prion susceptibility. While no consistent differences were determined for seven genes, highly significant changes were detected for Zbtb38, Sorcs1, Stmn2, Hspa13, Fkbp9, Actr10 and Plg, suggesting that they play key roles in the fundamental processes of prion propagation or clearance. Many neurodegenerative diseases involve the accumulation of misfolded protein aggregates and ‘prion-like’ seeding and spread has been implicated in their pathogenesis. It is therefore expected that some of these prion-modifier genes may be of wider relevance in neurodegeneration.

The accumulation of serpin oligomers and polymers within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) causes cellular injury in patients with the classical form α1-antitrypsin deficiency (ATD). To better understand the cellular and molecular genetic aspects of this disorder, we generated transgenic C. elegans strains expressing either the wild-type (ATM) or Z mutant form (ATZ) of the human serpin fused to GFP. Animals secreted ATM, but retained polymerized ATZ within dilated ER cisternae. These latter animals also showed slow growth, smaller brood sizes and decreased longevity; phenotypes observed in ATD patients or transgenic mouse lines expressing ATZ. Similar to mammalian models, ATZ was disposed of by autophagy and ER-associated degradation pathways. Mutant strains defective in insulin signaling (daf-2) also showed a marked decrease in ATZ accumulation. Enhanced ATZ turnover was associated with the activity of two proteins central to systemic/exogenous (exo)-RNAi pathway: the dsRNA importer, SID-1 and the argonaute, RDE-1. Animals with enhanced exo-RNAi activity (rrf-3 mutant) phenocopied the insulin signaling mutants and also showed increased ATZ turnover. Taken together, these studies allude to the existence of a novel proteostasis pathway that mechanistically links misfolded protein turnover to components of the systemic RNAi machinery.

α1-Antitrypsin deficiency (ATD) is a common genetic disorder that can lead to end-stage liver and lung disease. Although liver transplantation remains the only therapy currently available, manipulation of the proteostasis network (PN) by small molecule therapeutics offers great promise. To accelerate the drug-discovery process for this disease, we first developed a semi-automated high-throughput/content-genome-wide RNAi screen to identify PN modifiers affecting the accumulation of the α1-antitrypsin Z mutant (ATZ) in a Caenorhabditis elegans model of ATD. We identified 104 PN modifiers, and these genes were used in a computational strategy to identify human ortholog–ligand pairs. Based on rigorous selection criteria, we identified four FDA-approved drugs directed against four different PN targets that decreased the accumulation of ATZ in C. elegans. We also tested one of the compounds in a mammalian cell line with similar results. This methodology also proved useful in confirming drug targets in vivo, and predicting the success of combination therapy. We propose that small animal models of genetic disorders combined with genome-wide RNAi screening and computational methods can be used to rapidly, economically and strategically prime the preclinical discovery pipeline for rare and neglected diseases with limited therapeutic options.

The interchromosomal spatial positionings of a subset of human chromosomes was examined in the human breast cell line MCF10A (10A) and its malignant counterpart MCF10CA1a (CA1a). The nine chromosomes selected (#1, 4, 11, 12, 15, 16, 18, 21 and X) cover a wide range in size and gene density and compose ~40% of the total human genome. Radial positioning of the chromosome territories (CT) was size dependent with certain of the CT more peripheral in CA1a. Each CT was in close proximity (interaction) with a similar number of other CT except the inactive CTXi. It had lower levels of interchromosomal partners in 10A which increased strikingly in CA1a. Major alterations from 10A to CA1a were detected in the pairwise interaction profiles which were subdivided into five types of altered interaction profiles: overall increase, overall decrease, switching from 1 to ≥2, vice versa or no change. A global data mining program termed the chromatic median calculated the most probable overall association network for the entire subset of CT. This interchromosomal network was drastically altered in CA1a with only 1 of 20 shared connections. We conclude that CT undergo multiple and preferred interactions with other CT in the cell nucleus and form preferred—albeit probabilistic—interchromosomal networks. This network of interactions is highly altered in malignant human breast cells. It is intriguing to consider the relationship of these alterations to the corresponding changes in the gene expression program of these malignant cancer cells.

The microtubule cytoskeleton is critical for the generation and maturation of neurons in the developing mammalian nervous system. We have previously shown that mutations in the β-tubulin gene TUBB5 cause microcephaly with structural brain abnormalities in humans. While it is known that TUBB5 is necessary for the proper generation and migration of neurons, little is understood of the role it plays in neuronal differentiation and connectivity. Here, we report that perturbations to TUBB5 disrupt the morphology of cortical neurons, their neuronal complexity, axonal outgrowth, as well as the density and shape of dendritic spines in the postnatal murine cortex. The features we describe are consistent with defects in synaptic signaling. Cellular-based assays have revealed that TUBB5 substitutions have the capacity to alter the dynamic properties and polymerization rates of the microtubule cytoskeleton. Together, our studies show that TUBB5 is essential for neuronal differentiation and dendritic spine formation in vivo, providing insight into the underlying cellular pathology associated with TUBB5 disease states.

Complex I of the mitochondrial respiratory chain is a large multisubunit enzyme that assembles from nuclear and mtDNA-encoded components. Several complex I assembly factors have been identified, but their precise functions are not well understood. Here, we have investigated the function of one of these, NDUFAF7, a soluble matrix protein comprised of a DUF185 domain that harbors a methyltransferase motif. Knockdown of NDUFAF7 by siRNA in human fibroblasts produced a specific complex I assembly defect, as did morpholino-mediated knockdown of the zebrafish ortholog. Germline disruption of the murine ortholog was an early embryonic lethal. The complex I assembly defect was characterized by rapid, AFG3L2-dependent, turnover of newly synthesized ND1, the subunit that seeds the assembly pathway, and by decreased steady-state levels of several other structural subunits including NDUFS2, NDUFS1 and NDUFA9. Expression of an NDUFAF7 mutant (G124V), predicted to disrupt methyltransferase activity, impaired complex I assembly, suggesting an assembly factor or structural subunit as a substrate for methylation. To identify the NDUFAF7 substrate, we used an anti-ND1 antibody to immunoprecipitate complex I and its associated assembly factors, followed by mass spectrometry to detect posttranslational protein modifications. Analysis of an NDUFAF7 methyltransferase mutant showed a 10-fold reduction in an NDUFS2 peptide containing dimethylated Arg85, but a 5-fold reduction in three other NDUFS2 peptides. These results show that NDUFAF7 functions to methylate NDUFS2 after it assembles into a complex I, stabilizing an early intermediate in the assembly pathway, and that this function is essential for normal vertebrate development.

Loss-of-function mutations in the Src homology 3 (SH3) domain and tetratricopeptide repeats 2 (SH3TC2) gene cause autosomal recessive demyelinating Charcot–Marie–Tooth neuropathy. The SH3TC2 protein has been implicated in promyelination signaling through axonal neuregulin-1 and the ERBB2 Schwann cell receptor. However, little is known about the transcriptional regulation of the SH3TC2 gene. We performed computational and functional analyses that revealed two cis-acting regulatory elements at SH3TC2—one at the promoter and one ~150 kb downstream of the transcription start site. Both elements direct reporter gene expression in Schwann cells and are responsive to the transcription factor SOX10, which is essential for peripheral nervous system myelination. The downstream enhancer harbors a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) that causes an ~80% reduction in enhancer activity. The SNP resides directly within a predicted binding site for the transcription factor cAMP response element binding protein (CREB), and we demonstrate that this regulatory element binds to CREB and is activated by CREB expression. Finally, forskolin induces Sh3tc2 expression in rat primary Schwann cells, indicating that SH3TC2 is a CREB target gene. These findings prompted us to determine if SNP genotypes at SH3TC2 are associated with differential phenotypes in the most common demyelinating peripheral neuropathy, CMT1A. Interestingly, this revealed several associations between SNP alleles and disease severity. In summary, our data indicate that SH3TC2 is regulated by the transcription factors CREB and SOX10, define a regulatory SNP at this disease-associated locus and reveal SH3TC2 as a candidate modifier locus of CMT disease phenotypes.

Fragile X syndrome, a common form of inherited mental retardation, is caused by loss of the fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP). As a selective RNA-binding protein, FMRP is localized predominately in cytoplasm, where it regulates translational control. However, there is a small portion of FMRP present in the nucleus, and its function there has been elusive. Here, we show that Drosophila dFMR1 in nucleus is required for replication stress-induced H2Av phosphorylation in the DNA damage response (DDR). Replication stress could induce the expression of dFmr1 and promote the nuclear accumulation of dFMR1. We show that, upon the stimulation of replication stress, dFMR1 is associated with chromatin in a domain-specific manner, which is essential for its ability to induce the phosphorylation of H2Av. These results together reveal an unexpected nuclear role of FMRP in DDR and uncover a feed-forward mechanism by which dFmr1 and early DDR induced by replication stress reciprocally regulate each other, thereby synergistically triggering activity of the DDR signaling cascade.

Mutations in the FAM161A gene were previously identified as the cause for autosomal-recessive retinitis pigmentosa 28. To study the effects of Fam161a dysfunction in vivo, we generated gene-trapped Fam161aGT/GT mice with a disruption of its C-terminal domain essential for protein–protein interactions. We confirmed the absence of the full-length Fam161a protein in the retina of Fam161aGT/GT mice using western blots and showed weak expression of a truncated Fam161a protein by immunohistochemistry. Histological analyses demonstrated that photoreceptor segments were disorganized in young Fam161aGT/GT mice and that the outer retina was completely lost at 6 months of age. Reactive microglia appeared in the outer retina and electroretinography showed an early loss of photoreceptor function in 4-month-old Fam161aGT/GT animals. Light and electron microscopy revealed a remarkable phenotype of a significantly shortened connecting cilium, spread ciliary microtubule doublets and disturbed disk organization in Fam161aGT/GT photoreceptor cells. Co-immunolabeling experiments demonstrated reduced expression and mislocalization of centrin 3 and disturbed targeting of the Fam161a interactors lebercilin and Cep290, which were restricted to the basal body and proximal connecting cilium in Fam161aGT/GT retinas. Moreover, we identified misrouting of the outer segment cargo proteins opsin and rds/peripherin 2 in Fam161aGT/GT mice. In conclusion, our results suggest a critical role for the C-terminal domain of Fam161a for molecular interactions and integrity of the connecting cilium. Fam161a is required for the molecular delivery into the outer segment cilium, a function which is essential for outer segment disk formation and ultimately visual function.

Fused in sarcoma (FUS) is an RNA-binding protein involved in pathogenesis of several neurodegenerative diseases. Aggregation of mislocalized FUS into non-amyloid inclusions is believed to be pivotal in the development of cell dysfunction, but the mechanism of their formation is unclear. Using transient expression of a panel of deletion and chimeric FUS variants in various cultured cells, we demonstrated that FUS accumulating in the cytoplasm nucleates a novel type of RNA granules, FUS granules (FGs), that are structurally similar but not identical to physiological RNA transport granules. Formation of FGs requires FUS N-terminal prion-like domain and the ability to bind specific RNAs. Clustering of FGs coupled with further recruitment of RNA and proteins produce larger structures, FUS aggregates (FAs), that resemble but are clearly distinct from stress granules. In conditions of attenuated transcription, FAs lose RNA and dissociate into RNA-free FUS complexes that become precursors of large aggresome-like structures. We propose a model of multistep FUS aggregation involving RNA-dependent and RNA-independent stages. This model can be extrapolated to formation of pathological inclusions in human FUSopathies.

Loss-of-function mutations in PARK2, the gene encoding the E3 ubiquitin ligase Parkin, are the most frequent cause of recessive Parkinson's disease (PD). Parkin translocates from the cytosol to depolarized mitochondria, ubiquitinates outer mitochondrial membrane proteins and induces selective autophagy of the damaged mitochondria (mitophagy). Here, we show that ubiquitin-specific protease 15 (USP15), a deubiquitinating enzyme (DUB) widely expressed in brain and other organs, opposes Parkin-mediated mitophagy, while a panel of other DUBs and a catalytically inactive version of USP15 do not. Moreover, knockdown of USP15 rescues the mitophagy defect of PD patient fibroblasts with PARK2 mutations and decreased Parkin levels. USP15 does not affect the ubiquitination status of Parkin or Parkin translocation to mitochondria, but counteracts Parkin-mediated mitochondrial ubiquitination. Knockdown of the DUB CG8334, the closest homolog of USP15 in Drosophila, largely rescues the mitochondrial and behavioral defects of parkin RNAi flies. These data identify USP15 as an antagonist of Parkin and suggest that USP15 inhibition could be a therapeutic strategy for PD cases caused by reduced Parkin levels.

Retinoblastoma is a non-hereditary as well as an inherited pediatric tumor of the developing retina resulting from the inactivation of both copies of the RB1 tumor suppressor gene. Familial retinoblastoma is a highly penetrant genetic disease that usually develops by carrying germline mutations that inactivate one allele of the RB1 gene, leading to multiple retinoblastomas. However, large and complete germline RB1 deletions are associated with low or no tumor risk for reasons that remain unknown. In this study, we define a minimal genomic region associated with this low penetrance. This region encompasses few genes including MED4 a subunit of the mediator complex. We further show that retinoblastoma RB1 –/ cells cannot survive in the absence of MED4, both in vitro and in orthotopic xenograft models in vivo, therefore identifying MED4 as a survival gene in retinoblastoma. We propose that the contiguous loss of the adjacent retinoblastoma gene, MED4, explains the low penetrance in patients with large deletions that include both RB1 and MED4. Our findings also point to another synthetic lethal target in tumors with inactivated RB1 and highlight the importance of collateral damage in carcinogenesis.

Asthma is a complex disease with sex-specific differences in prevalence. Candidate gene studies have suggested that genotype-by-sex interaction effects on asthma risk exist, but this has not yet been explored at a genome-wide level. We aimed to identify sex-specific asthma risk alleles by performing a genome-wide scan for genotype-by-sex interactions in the ethnically diverse participants in the EVE Asthma Genetics Consortium. We performed male- and female-specific genome-wide association studies in 2653 male asthma cases, 2566 female asthma cases and 3830 non-asthma controls from European American, African American, African Caribbean and Latino populations. Association tests were conducted in each study sample, and the results were combined in ancestry-specific and cross-ancestry meta-analyses. Six sex-specific asthma risk loci had P-values < 1 x 10–6, of which two were male specific and four were female specific; all were ancestry specific. The most significant sex-specific association in European Americans was at the interferon regulatory factor 1 (IRF1) locus on 5q31.1. We also identify a Latino female-specific association in RAP1GAP2. Both of these loci included single-nucleotide polymorphisms that are known expression quantitative trait loci and have been associated with asthma in independent studies. The IRF1 locus is a strong candidate region for male-specific asthma susceptibility due to the association and validation we demonstrate here, the known role of IRF1 in asthma-relevant immune pathways and prior reports of sex-specific differences in interferon responses.

We studied the interplay between 39 breast cancer (BC) risk SNPs and established BC risk (body mass index, height, age at menarche, parity, age at menopause, smoking, alcohol and family history of BC) and prognostic factors (TNM stage, tumor grade, tumor size, age at diagnosis, estrogen receptor status and progesterone receptor status) as joint determinants of BC risk. We used a nested case–control design within the National Cancer Institute's Breast and Prostate Cancer Cohort Consortium (BPC3), with 16 285 BC cases and 19 376 controls. We performed stratified analyses for both the risk and prognostic factors, testing for heterogeneity for the risk factors, and case–case comparisons for differential associations of polymorphisms by subgroups of the prognostic factors. We analyzed multiplicative interactions between the SNPs and the risk factors. Finally, we also performed a meta-analysis of the interaction ORs from BPC3 and the Breast Cancer Association Consortium. After correction for multiple testing, no significant interaction between the SNPs and the established risk factors in the BPC3 study was found. The meta-analysis showed a suggestive interaction between smoking status and SLC4A7-rs4973768 (Pinteraction = 8.84 x 10–4) which, although not significant after considering multiple comparison, has a plausible biological explanation. In conclusion, in this study of up to almost 79 000 women we can conclusively exclude any novel major interactions between genome-wide association studies hits and the epidemiologic risk factors taken into consideration, but we propose a suggestive interaction between smoking status and SLC4A7-rs4973768 that if further replicated could help our understanding in the etiology of BC.

Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) causes spinal deformity in 3% of children. Despite a strong genetic basis, few genes have been associated with AIS and the pathogenesis remains poorly understood. In a genome-wide rare variant burden analysis using exome sequence data, we identified fibrillin-1 (FBN1) as the most significantly associated gene with AIS. Based on these results, FBN1 and a related gene, fibrillin-2 (FBN2), were sequenced in a total of 852 AIS cases and 669 controls. In individuals of European ancestry, rare variants in FBN1 and FBN2 were enriched in severely affected AIS cases (7.6%) compared with in-house controls (2.4%) (OR = 3.5, P = 5.46 x 10–4) and Exome Sequencing Project controls (2.3%) (OR = 3.5, P = 1.48 x 10–6). Scoliosis severity in AIS cases was associated with FBN1 and FBN2 rare variants (P = 0.0012) and replicated in an independent Han Chinese cohort (P = 0.0376), suggesting that rare variants may be useful as predictors of curve progression. Clinical evaluations revealed that the majority of AIS cases with rare FBN1 variants do not meet diagnostic criteria for Marfan syndrome, though variants are associated with tall stature (P = 0.0035) and upregulation of the transforming growth factor beta pathway. Overall, these results expand our definition of fibrillin-related disorders to include AIS and open up new strategies for diagnosing and treating severe AIS.

We sequenced the whole exome of 35 cases and 7 controls from 9 age-related macular degeneration (AMD) families in whom known common genetic risk alleles could not explain their high disease burden and/or their early-onset advanced disease. Two families harbored novel rare mutations in CFH (R53C and D90G). R53C segregates perfectly with AMD in 11 cases (heterozygous) and 1 elderly control (reference allele) (LOD = 5.07, P = 6.7 x 10–7). In an independent cohort, 4 out of 1676 cases but none of the 745 examined controls or 4300 NHBLI Exome Sequencing Project (ESP) samples carried the R53C mutation (P = 0.0039). In another family of six siblings, D90G similarly segregated with AMD in five cases and one control (LOD = 1.22, P = 0.009). No other sample in our large cohort or the ESP had this mutation. Functional studies demonstrated that R53C decreased the ability of FH to perform decay accelerating activity. D90G exhibited a decrease in cofactor-mediated inactivation. Both of these changes would lead to a loss of regulatory activity, resulting in excessive alternative pathway activation. This study represents an initial application of the whole-exome strategy to families with early-onset AMD. It successfully identified high impact alleles leading to clearer functional insight into AMD etiopathogenesis.

The majority of trait-associated loci discovered through genome-wide association studies are located outside of known protein coding regions. Consequently, it is difficult to ascertain the mechanism underlying these variants and to pinpoint the causal alleles. Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) provide an organizing principle to address both of these issues. eQTLs are genetic loci that correlate with RNA transcript levels. Large-scale data sets such as the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) provide an ideal opportunity to systematically evaluate eQTLs as they have generated multiple data types on hundreds of samples. We evaluated the determinants of gene expression (germline variants and somatic copy number and methylation) and performed cis-eQTL analyses for mRNA expression and miRNA expression in five tumor types (breast, colon, kidney, lung and prostate). We next tested 149 known cancer risk loci for eQTL effects, and observed that 42 (28.2%) were significantly associated with at least one transcript. Lastly, we described a fine-mapping strategy for these 42 eQTL target–gene associations based on an integrated strategy that combines the eQTL level of significance and the regulatory potential as measured by DNaseI hypersensitivity. For each of the risk loci, our analyses suggested 1 to 81 candidate causal variants that may be prioritized for downstream functional analysis. In summary, our study provided a comprehensive landscape of the genetic determinants of gene expression in different tumor types and ranked the genes and loci for further functional assessment of known cancer risk loci.