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  1. Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have identified and replicated many genetic variants that are associated with diseases and disease-related complex traits. However, the biological mechanisms underlying these identified associations remain largely elusive. Exploring the biological mechanisms underlying these associations requires identifying trait-relevant tissues and cell types, as genetic variants likely influence complex traits in a tissue- and cell type-specific manner. Recently, several statistical methods have been developed to integrate genomic data with GWASs for identifying trait-relevant tissues and cell types. These methods often rely on different genomic information and use different statistical models for trait-tissue relevance inference. Here, we present a comprehensive technical review to summarize ten existing methods for trait-tissue relevance inference. These methods make use of different genomic information that include functional annotation information, expression quantitative trait loci information, genetically regulated gene expression information, as well as gene co-expression network information. These methods also use different statistical models that range from linear mixed models to covariance network models. We hope that this review can serve as a useful reference both for methodologists who develop methods and for applied analysts who apply these methods for identifying trait relevant tissues and cell types.

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  2. Low socioeconomic status (SES) and living in a disadvantaged neighborhood are associated with poor cardiovascular health. Multiple lines of evidence have linked DNA methylation to both cardiovascular risk factors and social disadvantage indicators. However, limited research has investigated the role of DNA methylation in mediating the associations of individual- and neighborhood-level disadvantage with multiple cardiovascular risk factors in large, multi-ethnic, population-based cohorts. We examined whether disadvantage at the individual level (childhood and adult SES) and neighborhood level (summary neighborhood SES as assessed by Census data and social environment as assessed by perceptions of aesthetic quality, safety, and social cohesion) were associated with 11 cardiovascular risk factors including measures of obesity, diabetes, lipids, and hypertension in 1,154 participants from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). For significant associations, we conducted epigenome-wide mediation analysis to identify methylation sites mediating the relationship between individual/neighborhood disadvantage and cardiovascular risk factors using the JT-Comp method that assesses sparse mediation effects under a composite null hypothesis. In models adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, smoking, medication use, and genetic principal components of ancestry, epigenetic mediation was detected for the associations of adult SES with body mass index (BMI), insulin, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), as well as for the association between neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage and HDL-C at FDRq< 0.05. The 410 CpG mediators identified for the SES-BMI association were enriched for CpGs associated with gene expression (expression quantitative trait methylation loci, or eQTMs), and corresponding genes were enriched in antigen processing and presentation pathways. For cardiovascular risk factors other than BMI, most of the epigenetic mediators lost significance after controlling for BMI. However, 43 methylation sites showed evidence of mediating the neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage and HDL-C association after BMI adjustment. The identified mediators were enriched for eQTMs, and corresponding genes were enriched in inflammatory and apoptotic pathways. Our findings support the hypothesis that DNA methylation acts as a mediator between individual- and neighborhood-level disadvantage and cardiovascular risk factors, and shed light on the potential underlying epigenetic pathways. Future studies are needed to fully elucidate the biological mechanisms that link social disadvantage to poor cardiovascular health.

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