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Epigenetic programming is essential for lineage differentiation, embryogenesis and placentation in early pregnancy. In epigenetic association studies, DNA methylation is often examined in DNA derived from white blood cells, although its validity to other tissues of interest remains questionable. Therefore, we investigated the tissue specificity of epigenome-wide DNA methylation in newborn and placental tissues. Umbilical cord white blood cells (UC-WBC, n = 25), umbilical cord blood mononuclear cells (UC-MNC, n = 10), human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC, n = 25) and placental tissue (n = 25) were obtained from 36 uncomplicated pregnancies. Genome-wide DNA methylation was measured by the Illumina HumanMethylation450K BeadChip. Using UC-WBC as a reference tissue, we identified 3595 HUVEC tissue-specific differentially methylated regions (tDMRs) and 11,938 placental tDMRs. Functional enrichment analysis showed that HUVEC and placental tDMRs were involved in embryogenesis, vascular development and regulation of gene expression. No tDMRs were identified in UC-MNC. In conclusion, the extensive amount of genome-wide HUVEC and placental tDMRs underlines the relevance of tissue-specific approaches in future epigenetic association studies, or the use of validated representative tissues for a certain disease of interest, if available. To this purpose, we herewith provide a relevant dataset of paired, tissue-specific, genome-wide methylation measurements in newborn tissues.
Lifelong health is thought to be partially set during intrauterine life by persistent epigenetic changes induced by the prenatal environment. To evaluate this hypothesis, we initiated a prospective longitudinal study in monochorionic (MC) twins: the TwinLIFE study. MC twins are monozygotic, thus in origin genetically identical, and share a single placenta. Although MC twins have many environmental factors in common, in one-third of the MC twin pairs, one fetus has significantly less access to nutrients and resources during pregnancy than its co-twin often resulting in a significant discordance in prenatal growth. Hence, MC twins constitute a unique natural experiment to study the influence of the prenatal environment on health. In TwinLIFE, we will chart intrapair differences in DNA methylation focusing on mesenchymal stromal cells isolated from cord as an advanced proxy of epigenetic dysregulation relevant for long-term health consequences. Next, we will follow up the MC twins for growth, cardiovascular and neurodevelopmental outcomes during childhood and evaluate the impact of an epigenetic signature at birth on future health. The current target is to include 100 MC twin pairs, but we aim to continue enrollment after procuring additional funding. TwinLIFE will not only address an unmet clinical need in the high-risk group of MC twins, but may also advance early-life strategies to prevent adverse growth, cardiovascular and neurodevelopmental outcomes in the general population.
Aggressive behavior is highly heritable, while environmental influences, particularly early in life, are also important. Epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation, regulate gene expression throughout development and adulthood, and may mediate genetic and environmental effects on complex traits. We performed an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) to identify regions in the genome where DNA methylation level is associated with aggressive behavior. Subjects took part in longitudinal survey studies from the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) and participated in the NTR biobank project between 2004 and 2011 (N = 2,029, mean age at blood sampling = 36.4 years, SD = 12.4, females = 69.2%). Aggressive behavior was rated with the ASEBA Adult Self-Report (ASR). DNA methylation was measured in whole blood by the Illumina HM450k array. The association between aggressive behavior and DNA methylation level at 411,169 autosomal sites was tested. Association analyses in the entire cohort showed top sites at cg01792876 (chr8; 116,684,801, nearest gene = TRPS1, p = 7.6 × 10−7, False discovery rate (FDR) = 0.18) and cg06092953 (chr18; 77,905,699, nearest gene = PARD6G-AS1, p = 9.0 ×10−7, FDR = 0.18). Next, we compared methylation levels in 20 pairs of monozygotic (MZ) twins highly discordant for aggression. Here the top sites were cg21557159 (chr 11; 107,795,699, nearest gene = RAB39, p = 5.7 × 10−6, FDR = 0.99), cg08648367 (chr 19; 51,925,472, nearest gene = SIGLEC10, p = 7.6 × 10−6, FDR = 0.99), and cg14212412 (chr 6; 105,918,992, nearest gene = PREP, p = 8.0 × 10−6, FDR = 0.99). The two top hits based on the entire cohort showed the same direction of effect in discordant MZ pairs (cg01792876, Pdiscordant twins = 0.09 and cg06092953, Pdiscordant twins = 0.24). The other way around, two of the three most significant sites in discordant MZ pairs showed the same direction of effect in the entire cohort (cg08648367, Pentire EWAS = 0.59 and cg14212412, Pentire EWAS = 3.1 × 10−3). Gene ontology analysis highlighted significant enrichment of various central nervous system categories among higher-ranking methylation sites. Higher-ranking methylation sites also showed enrichment for DNase I hypersensitive sites and promoter regions, showing that DNA methylation in peripheral tissues is likely to be associated with aggressive behavior.
Genes involved in pathways regulating body weight may operate differently in men and women. To determine whether sex-limited genes influence the obesity-related phenotype body mass index (BMI), we have conducted a general non- scalar sex-limited genome-wide linkage scan using variance components analysis in Mx (Neale, 2002). BMI measurements and genotypic data were available for 2053 Australian female and male adult twins and their siblings from 933 families. Clinical measures of BMI were available for 64.4% of these individuals, while only self-reported measures were available for the remaining participants. The mean age of participants was 39.0 years of age (SD 12.1 years). The use of a sex-limited linkage model identified areas on the genome where quantitative trait loci (QTL) effects differ between the sexes, particularly on chromosome 8 and 20, providing us with evidence that some of the genes responsible for BMI may have different effects in men and women. Our highest linkage peak was observed at 12q24 (–log10p = 3.02), which was near the recommended threshold for suggestive linkage (–log10p = 3.13). Previous studies have found evidence for a quantitative trait locus on 12q24 affecting BMI in a wide range of populations, and candidate genes for non- insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, a consequence of obesity, have also been mapped to this region. We also identified many peaks near a –log10p of 2 (threshold for replicating an existing finding) in many areas across the genome that are within regions previously identified by other studies, as well as in locations that harbor genes known to influence weight regulation.
Plasma levels of lipoprotein(a) — Lp(a) — are associated with cardiovascular risk (Danesh et al., 2000) and were long believed to be influenced by the LPA locus on chromosome 6q27 only. However, a recent report of Broeckel et al. (2002) suggested the presence of a second quantitative trait locus on chromosome 1 influencing Lp(a) levels. Using a two-locus model, we found no evidence for an additional Lp(a) locus on chromosome 1 in a linkage study among 483 dizygotic twin pairs.
This study investigated the influence of genes and environment on the variation of apolipoprotein and lipid levels, which are important intermediate phenotypes in the pathways toward cardiovascular disease. Heritability estimates are presented, including those for apolipoprotein E and AII levels which have rarely been reported before. We studied twin samples from the Netherlands (two cohorts; n = 160 pairs, aged 13–22 and n = 204 pairs, aged 34–62), Australia (n = 1362 pairs, aged 28–92) and Sweden (n = 302 pairs, aged 42–88). The variation of apolipoprotein and lipid levels depended largely on the influences of additive genetic factors in each twin sample. There was no significant evidence for the influence of common environment. No sex differences in heritability estimates for any phenotype in any of the samples were observed. Heritabilities ranged from 0.48–0.87, with most heritabilities exceeding 0.60. The heritability estimates in the Dutch samples were significantly higher than in the Australian sample. The heritabilities for the Swedish were intermediate to the Dutch and the Australian samples and not significantly different from the heritabilities in these other two samples. Although sample specific effects are present, we have shown that genes play a major role in determining the variance of apolipoprotein and lipid levels in four independent twin samples from three different countries.
Obesity is a rapidly growing threat to public health, driven by the increased occurrence of high caloric diets and sedentary lifestyles. Within this environment, genetic influences may largely determine inter-individual differences in obesity-related traits. To map genes involved in weight regulation, we performed a genome-wide linkage scan for body mass index (BMI), a reliable measure of total body fat, in 192 Dutch families including 315 twins and 210 siblings with data on BMI. Using variance components linkage analysis, regions with LOD-scores greater than 2 were observed on 6p25.1 (LOD-score, 2.13) and 7p21.1 (LOD-score, 2.40). LOD-scores higher than 1 were found on chromosomes 3, 13, 15 and 21. Of note, evidence for the putative quantitative trait locus for BMI on 7p was obtained previously from such diverse populations as Mexican-Americans, Asians and Nigerians, suggesting that the underlying genes may effect weight regulation in diverse environments. An obvious positional candidate in the 7p linkage region is the gene encoding neuropeptide Y (NPY) that controls satiety and food intake.
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