To systematically study somatic variants arising during development in the human brain across a spectrum of neurodegenerative disorders. In this study we developed a pipeline to identify somatic variants from exome sequencing data in 1461 diseased and control human brains. Eighty-eight percent of the DNA samples were extracted from the cerebellum. Identified somatic variants were validated by targeted amplicon sequencing and/or PyroMark® Q24. We observed somatic coding variants present in >10% of sampled cells in at least 1% of brains. The mutational signature of the detected variants showed a predominance of C>T variants most consistent with arising from DNA mismatch repair, occurred frequently in genes that are highly expressed within the central nervous system, and with a minimum somatic mutation rate of 4.25 × 10 per base pair per individual. These findings provide proof-of-principle that deleterious somatic variants can affect sizeable brain regions in at least 1% of the population, and thus have the potential to contribute to the pathogenesis of common neurodegenerative diseases.
The possibility that alterations in DNA methylation are mechanistic drivers of development, aging and susceptibility to disease is widely acknowledged, but evidence remains patchy or inconclusive. Of particular interest in this regard is the brain, where it has been reported that DNA methylation impacts on neuronal activity, learning and memory, drug addiction and neurodegeneration. Until recently, however, little was known about the 'landscape' of the human brain methylome. Here we assay 1.9 million CpGs in each of 43 brain samples representing different individuals and brain regions. The cerebellum was a consistent outlier compared to all other regions, and showed over 16 000 differentially methylated regions (DMRs). Unexpectedly, the sequence characteristics of hypo- and hypermethylated domains in cerebellum were distinct. In contrast, very few DMRs distinguished regions of the cortex, limbic system and brain stem. Inter-individual DMRs were readily detectable in these regions. These results lead to the surprising conclusion that, with the exception of cerebellum, DNA methylation patterns are more homogeneous between different brain regions from the same individual, than they are for a single brain region between different individuals. This finding suggests that DNA sequence composition, not developmental status, is the principal determinant of the human brain DNA methylome.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common disease of the central nervous system and a major cause of disability amongst young adults. Genome-wide association studies have identified many novel susceptibility loci including rs2248359. We hypothesized that genotypes of this locus could increase the risk of MS by regulating expression of neighboring gene, which encodes the enzyme responsible for initiating degradation of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3. We investigated this hypothesis using paired gene expression and genotyping data from three independent datasets of neurologically healthy adults of European descent. The UK Brain Expression Consortium (UKBEC) consists of post-mortem samples across 10 brain regions originating from 134 individuals (1231 samples total). The North American Brain Expression Consortium (NABEC) consists of cerebellum and frontal cortex samples from 304 individuals (605 samples total). The brain dataset from Heinzen and colleagues consists of prefrontal cortex samples from 93 individuals. Additionally, we used gene network analysis to analyze UKBEC expression data to understand function in human brain. The risk allele, rs2248359-C, is strongly associated with increased expression of in frontal cortex (-value=1.45×10), but not white matter. This association was replicated using data from NABEC (-value=7.2×10) and Heinzen and colleagues (-value=1.2×10). Network analysis shows a significant enrichment of terms related to immune response in eight out of the 10 brain regions. The known MS risk allele rs2248359-C increases expression in human brain providing a genetic link between MS and vitamin D metabolism, and predicting that the physiologically active form of vitamin D3 is protective. Vitamin D3's involvement in MS may relate to its immunomodulatory functions in human brain. Medical Research Council UK; King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Saudi Arabia; Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, USA.
Polymorphisms in the target mRNA sequence can greatly affect the binding affinity of microarray probe sequences, leading to false-positive and false-negative expression quantitative trait locus (QTL) signals with any other polymorphisms in linkage disequilibrium. We provide the most complete solution to this problem, by using the latest genome and exome sequence reference data to identify almost all common polymorphisms (frequency >1% in Europeans) in probe sequences for two commonly used microarray panels (the gene-based Illumina Human HT12 array, which uses 50-mer probes, and exon-based Affymetrix Human Exon 1.0 ST array, which uses 25-mer probes). We demonstrate the impact of this problem using cerebellum and frontal cortex tissues from 438 neuropathologically normal individuals. We find that although only a small proportion of the probes contain polymorphisms, they account for a large proportion of apparent expression QTL signals, and therefore result in many false signals being declared as real. We find that the polymorphism-in-probe problem is insufficiently controlled by previous protocols, and illustrate this using some notable false-positive and false-negative examples in MAPT and PRICKLE1 that can be found in many eQTL databases. We recommend that both new and existing eQTL data sets should be carefully checked in order to adequately address this issue.
Association studies have identified several signals at the LRRK2 locus for Parkinson's disease (PD), Crohn's disease (CD) and leprosy. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms mediating these effects. To further characterize this locus, we fine-mapped the risk association in 5,802 PD and 5,556 controls using a dense genotyping array (ImmunoChip). Using samples from 134 post-mortem control adult human brains (UK Human Brain Expression Consortium), where up to ten brain regions were available per individual, we studied the regional variation, splicing and regulation of LRRK2. We found convincing evidence for a common variant PD association located outside of the LRRK2 protein coding region (rs117762348, A>G, P = 2.56×10(-8), case/control MAF 0.083/0.074, odds ratio 0.86 for the minor allele with 95% confidence interval [0.80-0.91]). We show that mRNA expression levels are highest in cortical regions and lowest in cerebellum. We find an exon quantitative trait locus (QTL) in brain samples that localizes to exons 32-33 and investigate the molecular basis of this eQTL using RNA-Seq data in n = 8 brain samples. The genotype underlying this eQTL is in strong linkage disequilibrium with the CD associated non-synonymous SNP rs3761863 (M2397T). We found two additional QTLs in liver and monocyte samples but none of these explained the common variant PD association at rs117762348. Our results characterize the LRRK2 locus, and highlight the importance and difficulties of fine-mapping and integration of multiple datasets to delineate pathogenic variants and thus develop an understanding of disease mechanisms.
Previous studies have suggested that there are genes whose expression levels are associated with chronological age. However, which genes show consistent age association across studies, and which are specific to a given organism or tissue remains unresolved. Here, we reassessed this question using 2 independently ascertained series of human brain samples from 2 anatomic regions, the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. Using microarrays to estimate gene expression, we found 60 associations between expression and chronological age that were statistically significant and were replicated in both series in at least 1 tissue. There were a greater number of significant associations in the frontal cortex compared with the cerebellum. We then repeated the analysis in a subset of samples using laser capture microdissection to isolate Purkinje neurons from the cerebellum. We were able to replicate 5 gene associations from either frontal cortex or cerebellum in the Purkinje cell dataset, suggesting that there is a subset of genes which have robust changes with aging. Of these, the most consistent and strongest association was with expression of RHBDL3, a rhomboid protease family member. We confirmed several hits using an independent technique (quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) and in an independent published sample series that used a different array platform. We also interrogated larger patterns of age-related gene expression using weighted gene correlation network analysis. We found several modules that showed significant associations with chronological age and, of these, several that showed negative associations were enriched for genes encoding components of mitochondria. Overall, our results show that there is a distinct and reproducible gene signature for aging in the human brain.