Identification of genes and regulators that are shared across T cell associated diseases

Sammanfattning: Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of hundreds of diseases and millions of patients have led to the identification of genes that are associated with more than one disease. The aims of this PhD thesis were to a) identify a group of genes important in multiple diseases (shared disease genes), b) identify shared up-stream disease regulators, and c) determine how the same genes can be involved in the pathogenesis of different diseases. These aims have been tested on CD4+ T cells because they express the T helper cell differentiation pathway, which was the most enriched pathway in analyses of all disease associated genes identified with GWASs.Combining information about known gene-gene interactions from the protein-protein interaction (PPI) network with gene expression changes in multiple T cell associated diseases led to the identification of a group of highly interconnected genes that were miss-expressed in many of those diseases – hereafter called ‘shared disease genes’. Those genes were further enriched for inflammatory, metabolic and proliferative pathways, genetic variants identified by all GWASs, as well as mutations in cancer studies and known diagnostic and therapeutic targets. Taken together, these findings supported the relevance of the shared disease genes.Identification of the shared upstream disease regulators was addressed in the second project of this PhD thesis. The underlying hypothesis assumed that the determination of the shared upstream disease regulators is possible through a network model showing in which order genes activate each other. For that reason a transcription factor–gene regulatory network (TF-GRN) was created. The TF-GRN was based on the time-series gene expression profiling of the T helper cell type 1 (Th1), and T helper cell type 2 (Th2) differentiation from Native T-cells. Transcription factors (TFs) whose expression changed early during polarization and had many downstream predicted targets (hubs) that were enriched for disease associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were prioritised as the putative early disease regulators. These analyses identified three transcription factors: GATA3, MAF and MYB. Their predicted targets were validated by ChIP-Seq and siRNA mediated knockdown in primary human T-cells. CD4+ T cells isolated from seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) and multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in their non-symptomatic stages were analysed in order to demonstrate predictive potential of those three TFs. We found that those three TFs were differentially expressed in symptom-free stages of the two diseases, while their TF-GRN{predicted targets were differentially expressed during symptomatic disease stages. Moreover, using RNA-Seq data we identified a disease associated SNP that correlated with differential splicing of GATA3.A limitation of the above study is that it concentrated on TFs as main regulators in cells, excluding other potential regulators such as microRNAs. To this end, a microRNA{gene regulatory network (mGRN) of human CD4+ T cell differentiation was constructed. Within this network, we defined regulatory clusters (groups of microRNAs that are regulating groups of mRNAs). One regulatory cluster was differentially expressed in all of the tested diseases, and was highly enriched for GWAS SNPs. Although the microRNA processing machinery was dynamically upregulated during early T-cell activation, the majority of microRNA modules showed specialisation in later time-points.In summary this PhD thesis shows the relevance of shared genes and up-stream disease regulators. Putative mechanisms of why shared genes can be involved in pathogenesis of different diseases have also been demonstrated: a) differential gene expression in different diseases; b) alternative transcription factor splicing variants may affect different downstream gene target group; and c) SNPs might cause alternative splicing.

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