Publications

2008
Fullerton, J.M., et al. Human-mouse quantitative trait locus concordance and the dissection of a human neuroticism locus. Biol Psychiatry 63, 874-83 (2008).Abstract
BACKGROUND: Exploiting synteny between mouse and human disease loci has been proposed as a cost-effective method for the identification of human susceptibility genes. Here we explore its utility in an analysis of a human personality trait, neuroticism, which can be modeled in mice by tests of emotionality. We investigated a mouse emotionality locus on chromosome 1 that contains no annotated genes but abuts four regulators of G protein signaling, one of which (rgs2) has been previously identified as a quantitative trait gene for emotionality. This locus is syntenic with a human region that has been consistently implicated in the genetic aetiology of neuroticism. METHODS: The functional candidacy of 29 murine sequence variants was tested by a combination of gel shift and transient transfection assays. Murine sequences that contained functional variants and exhibited significant cross-species conservation were prioritized for investigation in humans. Genetic association with neuroticism was tested in 1869 high and 2032 low unrelated individuals scored for neuroticism, selected from the extremes of 88,141 people from southwest England. RESULTS: Fifteen sequence variants contributed to variation in the expression of rgs18, the gene lying at the edge of the quantitative trait loci (QTL) interval. There was no evidence of association between neuroticism and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) lying in the human regions homologous to those of mouse functional variants. One SNP, rs6428058, in a region of sequence conservation 644 kb upstream of RGS18, showed significant association (p = .000631). CONCLUSIONS: It is unlikely that a single variant is responsible for the mouse emotionality locus on chromosome 1. This level of underlying genetic complexity means that although cross-species QTL concordance may be invaluable for the identification of human disease loci, it is unlikely to be as informative in the identification of human disease-causing variants.
Flint, J. & Shifman, S. Animal models of psychiatric disease. Curr Opin Genet Dev 18, 235-40 (2008).Abstract
Animal models of psychiatric diseases are useful tools for screening new drugs and for investigating the mechanisms of those disorders. Despite the difficulties inherent in modelling human psychiatric phenotypes in animals, there has been recent success identifying mutations in mice that give rise to some of the characteristic features of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder. In some cases these models have the additional strength that drugs used to treat the human condition alleviate the symptoms in mice. Robust genetic evidence of the involvement of multiple susceptibility genes in psychiatric disease will enable future studies to move from single-gene models to models with multiple modified loci, with the promise of better representing the complexity of the human diseases.
Flint, J., Shifman, S., Munafo, M. & Mott, R. Genetic variants in major depression. Novartis Found Symp 289, 23-32; discussion 33-42, 87-93 (2008).Abstract
Major depression is one of the most common and most debilitating disorders in the world. A wealth of data indicate that additive genetic effects contribute to at least 30% of the variance in liability to major depression, yet attempts to identify the molecular basis of susceptibility using standard family based linkage and genetic association methodologies have had limited success. Alternative approaches have recently been advocated, such as the inclusion of gene by environment interactions and the use of endophenotypes. Our own data indicate that the genetic architecture of affective illness is more complex than expected. A whole genome association study of neuroticism, a personality trait that shares many of the same susceptibility loci as depression, reveals that the individual effect sizes are less than 1%. Larger sample sizes and more sophisticated analytical approaches will be needed than have hitherto been applied.
O'Donovan, M.C., et al. Identification of loci associated with schizophrenia by genome-wide association and follow-up. Nat Genet 40, 1053-5 (2008).Abstract
We carried out a genome-wide association study of schizophrenia (479 cases, 2,937 controls) and tested loci with P < 10(-5) in up to 16,726 additional subjects. Of 12 loci followed up, 3 had strong independent support (P < 5 x 10(-4)), and the overall pattern of replication was unlikely to occur by chance (P = 9 x 10(-8)). Meta-analysis provided strongest evidence for association around ZNF804A (P = 1.61 x 10(-7)) and this strengthened when the affected phenotype included bipolar disorder (P = 9.96 x 10(-9)).
Falkai, P., et al. A roadmap to disentangle the molecular etiology of schizophrenia. Eur Psychiatry 23, 224-32 (2008).Abstract
Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder striking mainly young adults and leading to life-long disability in a substantial portion of the sufferers. On the other hand, substantial knowledge about its etiology and pathogenesis is still lacking. Therefore the European Science Foundation (ESF) sponsored a meeting of a panel of European experts on schizophrenia research to discuss the state of art and future perspectives of key topics in this area. The fields covered genetics, epidemiology, animal models, molecular neuropathology and imaging. This was a first step to establish a network of European groups dedicated to Schizophrenia research. The coming calls of the frame work program will be used to strengthen this network in order to achieve substantial progress in understanding and treating this devastating illness.
2007
Martin, J., Cleak, J., Willis-Owen, S.A.G., Flint, J. & Shifman, S. Mapping regulatory variants for the serotonin transporter gene based on allelic expression imbalance. Mol Psychiatry 12, 421-2 (2007).
2006
Willis-Owen, S.A.G., Shifman, S., Copley, R.R. & Flint, J. DCNP1: a novel candidate gene for major depression. Mol Psychiatry 11, 121-2 (2006).
Shifman, S., et al. A complete genetic association scan of the 22q11 deletion region and functional evidence reveal an association between DGCR2 and schizophrenia. Hum Genet 120, 160-70 (2006).Abstract
Several lines of evidence have established the presence of an association between a 3-Mb deletion in chromosome 22q11 and schizophrenia. In this paper we present a complete high-density SNP scan of this segment using DNA pools, and demonstrate significant association between two distinct regions and schizophrenia in an Ashkenazi Jewish population. One of these regions contains the previously identified COMT gene. The pattern of association and linkage disequilibrium (LD) in the second region suggest that DGCR2, which encodes a putative adhesion receptor protein, is the susceptibility gene. We confirmed the association between DGCR2 and schizophrenia through individual genotyping of 1,400 subjects. In a gene expression analysis the risk allele of a coding SNP associated with schizophrenia was found to be associated with a reduced expression of DGCR2. Interestingly, the expression of DGCR2 was also found to be elevated in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of schizophrenic patients relative to matched controls. This increase is likely to be explained by exposure to antipsychotic drugs. To test that hypothesis, we looked at rats exposed to antipsychotic medication and found significantly elevated levels of DGCR2 transcripts. The genetic and functional evidences here reported suggest a possible role of the DGCR2 gene in the pathology of schizophrenia and also in the therapeutic effects of antipsychotic drugs.
Shifman, S., et al. A high-resolution single nucleotide polymorphism genetic map of the mouse genome. PLoS Biol 4, e395 (2006).Abstract
High-resolution genetic maps are required for mapping complex traits and for the study of recombination. We report the highest density genetic map yet created for any organism, except humans. Using more than 10,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms evenly spaced across the mouse genome, we have constructed genetic maps for both outbred and inbred mice, and separately for males and females. Recombination rates are highly correlated in outbred and inbred mice, but show relatively low correlation between males and females. Differences between male and female recombination maps and the sequence features associated with recombination are strikingly similar to those observed in humans. Genetic maps are available from http://gscan.well.ox.ac.uk/#genetic_map and as supporting information to this publication.
2005
Benmoyal-Segal, L., et al. Acetylcholinesterase/paraoxonase interactions increase the risk of insecticide-induced Parkinson's disease. FASEB J 19, 452-4 (2005).Abstract
Exposure to agricultural insecticides, together with yet incompletely understood predisposing genotype/phenotype elements, notably increase the risk of Parkinson's disease. Here, we report findings attributing the increased risk in an insecticide-exposed rural area in Israel to interacting debilitating polymorphisms in the ACHE/PON1 locus and corresponding expression variations. Polymorphisms that debilitate PON1 activity and cause impaired AChE overproduction under anticholinesterase exposure were strongly overrepresented in patients from agriculturally exposed areas, indicating that they confer risk of Parkinson's disease. Supporting this notion, serum AChE and PON1 activities were both selectively and significantly lower in patients than in healthy individuals and in carriers of the risky polymorphisms as compared with other Parkinsonian patients. Our findings suggest that inherited interactive weakness of AChE and PON1 expression increases the insecticide-induced occurrence of Parkinson's disease.
Darvasi, A. & Shifman, S. The beauty of admixture. Nat Genet 37, 118-9 (2005).
Horowitz, A., Shifman, S., Rivlin, N., Pisanté, A. & Darvasi, A. Further tests of the association between schizophrenia and single nucleotide polymorphism markers at the catechol-O-methyltransferase locus in an Askenazi Jewish population using microsatellite markers. Psychiatr Genet 15, 163-9 (2005).Abstract
Association studies are now primarily being conducted with single nucleotide polymorphisms because they are present everywhere in the genome and can be genotyped in "high throughput" formats. Microsatellite markers have a higher degree of polymorphism than single nucleotide polymorphisms and have been widely used in both linkage and association studies of disease. Polymorphic microsatellite markers with several alleles can readily detect linkage disequilibrium but at any given locus there may be differences between single nucleotide polymorphisms and microsatellites in their power to detect linkage disequilibrium because of the evolutionary history of the locus, especially the rate at which both the single nucleotide polymorphisms and microsatellite polymorphisms have mutated and the number of disease mutations and their history. In the current study, we examined the efficiency of microsatellite markers in association analysis by looking at all existent microsatellite markers in the catechol-O-methyltransferase gene region and by genotyping these microsatellites in a large cohort of schizophrenia patients and healthy controls, a subset of a sample where catechol-O-methyltransferase and schizophrenia were found to be associated. We also estimated the levels of linkage disequilibrium between these microsatellites and the previously reported single nucleotide polymorphisms (within the catechol-O-methyltransferase gene) found to be associated with schizophrenia. A modest allelic association of P=0.041 was found between schizophrenia and the microsatellite marker D22S944, which was not significant, however, when corrected for all microsatellites tested. Nevertheless, significant linkage disequilibrium was found between this marker and the three single nucleotide polymorphisms within the catechol-O-methyltransferase gene that displayed association with the disease in the previously published research on this sample. Significant linkage disequilibrium was also observed between microsatellites up to approximately 300 kb distant from those single nucleotide polymorphisms. Although significant, the extent of linkage disequilibrium in terms of r2 was small (in the order of 0.01).
Shifman, S. & Darvasi, A. Mouse inbred strain sequence information and yin-yang crosses for quantitative trait locus fine mapping. Genetics 169, 849-54 (2005).Abstract
The shared ancestry of mouse inbred strains, together with the availability of sequence and phenotype information, is a resource that can be used to map quantitative trait loci (QTL). The difficulty in using only sequence information lies in the fact that in most instances the allelic state of the QTL cannot be unambiguously determined in a given strain. To overcome this difficulty, the performance of multiple crosses between various inbred strains has been proposed. Here we suggest and evaluate a general approach, which consists of crossing the two strains used initially to map the QTL and any new strain. We have termed these crosses "yin-yang," because they are complementary in nature as shown by the fact that the QTL will necessarily segregate in only one of the crosses. We used the publicly available SNP database of chromosome 16 to evaluate the mapping resolution achievable through this approach. Although on average the improvement of mapping resolution using only four inbred strains was relatively small (i.e., reduction of the QTL-containing interval by half at most), we found a great degree of variability among different regions of chromosome 16 with regard to mapping resolution. This suggests that with a large number of strains in hand, selecting a small number of strains may provide a significant contribution to the fine mapping of QTL.
Flint, J., Valdar, W., Shifman, S. & Mott, R. Strategies for mapping and cloning quantitative trait genes in rodents. Nat Rev Genet 6, 271-86 (2005).Abstract
Over the past 15 years, more than 2,000 quantitative trait loci (QTLs) have been identified in crosses between inbred strains of mice and rats, but less than 1% have been characterized at a molecular level. However, new resources, such as chromosome substitution strains and the proposed Collaborative Cross, together with new analytical tools, including probabilistic ancestral haplotype reconstruction in outbred mice, Yin-Yang crosses and in silico analysis of sequence variants in many inbred strains, could make QTL cloning tractable. We review the potential of these strategies to identify genes that underlie QTLs in rodents.
Horowitz, A., Shifman, S., Rivlin, N., Pisanté, A. & Darvasi, A. A survey of the 22q11 microdeletion in a large cohort of schizophrenia patients. Schizophr Res 73, 263-7 (2005).Abstract
The occurrence of a microdeletion at 22q11 has long been considered to constitute a risk factor for schizophrenia. Higher rates of 22q11 deletions have been reported in cohorts of patients with schizophrenia. In order to estimate the prevalence of the 22q11 deletion in schizophrenia patients more accurately, a screening for 22q11 deletions was conducted on a cohort of 634 schizophrenia patients, the largest sample size screened to date. Seven microsatellites and three SNPs were used to assess the deletion genotype. In cases where all markers were found to be homozygous (hemizygous), the individual was assumed to carry the deletion. The method used here is simple and efficient in comparison with hybridization technologies. Moreover, the rate of false positives is very low (P-value in the range of 10(-4) to 10(-3)). Approximately 1% of the patient cohort was found to carry 22q11 deletions.
2004
Shifman, S., et al. COMT: a common susceptibility gene in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet 128B, 61-4 (2004).Abstract
A variety of psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have been reported in patients with microdeletion on chromosome 22q11-a region which includes the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene. The variety of psychiatric manifestations in patients with the 22q11 microdeletion and the role of COMT in the degradation of catecholamine neurotransmitters may thus suggest a general involvement of the COMT gene in psychiatric diseases. We have previously reported on a significant association between a COMT haplotype and schizophrenia. In this study, we attempt to test for association between bipolar disorder and the polymorphisms implicated in schizophrenia. The association between COMT and bipolar disorder was tested by examining the allele and haplotype found to be associated with schizophrenia. A significant association between bipolar disorder and COMT polymorphisms was found. The estimated relative risk is greater in women, a result consistent with our previous findings in schizophrenia. We suggest that polymorphisms in the COMT gene may influence susceptibility to both diseases--and probably also a wider range of behavioral traits.
2003
Shifman, S., Kuypers, J., Kokoris, M., Yakir, B. & Darvasi, A. Linkage disequilibrium patterns of the human genome across populations. Hum Mol Genet 12, 771-6 (2003).Abstract
We studied the patterns of linkage disequilibrium (LD) in the human genome among three populations: African Americans, Caucasians and Ashkenazi Jews. These three populations represent admixed, outbred and isolated populations, respectively. The study examined defined chromosomal regions across the whole genome. We found that SNP allele frequencies are highly correlated between Ashkenazi Jews and Caucasians and somewhat distinct in African Americans. In addition, Ashkenazi Jews have a modest increase in LD compared with Caucasians, and both have greater LD than African Americans. The three populations differed more significantly with regard to haplotype heterogeneity. We found, as expected, that Ashkenazi Jews display the greatest extent of homogeneity and African Americans the greatest extent of heterogeneity. We found that most of the variance in LD can be attributed to the difference between regions and markers rather than to that between different population types. The average recombination rates estimated by low-resolution genetic maps can only explain a small fraction of the variance between regions. We found that LD (in terms of r(2)) decreases as a function of distance even within the so-called 'haplotype blocks'. This has significant consequences when using LD mapping for the genetic dissection of complex traits, as higher density SNP maps will be required to scan the genome.
2002
Zak, N.B., Shifman, S., Shalom, A. & Darvasi, A. Genetic dissection of common diseases. Isr Med Assoc J 4, 438-43 (2002).Abstract
The complex genetic nature of many common diseases makes the identification of the genes that predispose to these ailments a difficult task. In this review we discuss the elements that contribute to the complexity of polygenic diseases and describe an experimental strategy for disease-related gene discovery that attempts to overcome these factors. This strategy involves a population-based case-control paradigm and makes use of a highly informative, homogeneous founder population, many of whose members presently reside in Israel. The properties of single nucleotide polymorphisms, which are presently the markers of choice, are discussed, and the technologies that are currently available for SNP genotyping are briefly presented.
Shifman, S., et al. A highly significant association between a COMT haplotype and schizophrenia. Am J Hum Genet 71, 1296-302 (2002).Abstract
Several lines of evidence have placed the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene in the limelight as a candidate gene for schizophrenia. One of these is its biochemical function in metabolism of catecholamine neurotransmitters; another is the microdeletion, on chromosome 22q11, that includes the COMT gene and causes velocardiofacial syndrome, a syndrome associated with a high rate of psychosis, particularly schizophrenia. The interest in the COMT gene as a candidate risk factor for schizophrenia has led to numerous linkage and association analyses. These, however, have failed to produce any conclusive result. Here we report an efficient approach to gene discovery. The approach consists of (i) a large sample size-to our knowledge, the present study is the largest case-control study performed to date in schizophrenia; (ii) the use of Ashkenazi Jews, a well defined homogeneous population; and (iii) a stepwise procedure in which several single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are scanned in DNA pools, followed by individual genotyping and haplotype analysis of the relevant SNPs. We found a highly significant association between schizophrenia and a COMT haplotype (P=9.5x10-8). The approach presented can be widely implemented for the genetic dissection of other common diseases.
McGinnis, R., Shifman, S. & Darvasi, A. Power and efficiency of the TDT and case-control design for association scans. Behav Genet 32, 135-44 (2002).Abstract
Sample size required for the TDT and the case-control designs was studied for marker-based genome-wide scans for disease association. The influence of various parameters on sample size required to attain a given level of power was analyzed in detail. Small genotypic relative risks, low levels of linkage disequilibrium, and departure from equal frequencies for the disease allele and associated marker allele, significantly and similarly increase sample size required by either the TDT or case-control design. Under the case-control paradigm, we show that the optimal strategy will often be to collect many more control individuals than disease cases with the optimal ratio depending on the relative cost of acquiring cases as compared to controls. For the TDT, the number of required simplex families is virtually equal to the number of cases required for similar power in case-control studies with an equal number of cases and controls. The case-control approach may therefore prove to be more economical and expeditious than the TDT design for diseases in which the cost and time required to collect simplex families is much greater than that needed to acquire isolated disease cases. Nevertheless, possible population stratification needs to be addressed when the case-control design is applied.

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