PhD student, Tel Aviv University


Analyzing the significance of possible factors on the number of observed substitutions in mtDNA

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a small fragment of the DNA in eukaryotic cells, located in the mitochondria. It is widely used in many fields such as genetic genealogy, medical genetics and even forensic science. One of its key features is that it is inherited solely from the mother and therefore does not go through recombination. Subsequently, the accumulation of mutations along maternal lineages is the cause for mtDNA sequence variation. This variation can be used for the reconstruction of a phylogenetic tree based on parsimony and maximum likelihood methods. A recent study had constructed an updated comprehensive phylogeny of global human mtDNA variations, based on coding and control region mutations. Even though this highly reliable phylogenetic tree is available, the substitution mechanism in mtDNA is not yet fully understood. We propose to use this comprehensive phylogeny to research different substitution models of mtDNA and answer some open questions on common assumptions. The improvement in the amount of available data increases the power of performed statistical tests allowing to test more complicated models than these previously suggested, but also requires novel approaches (both statistical and computational) for testing statistical hypotheses on large scale data.


Y chromosome haplogroups and prostate cancer in populations of European and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Abstract: Genetic variation on the Y chromosome has not been convincingly implicated in prostate cancer risk. To comprehensively analyze the role of inherited Y chromosome variation in prostate cancer risk in individuals of European ancestry, we genotyped 34 binary Y chromosome markers in 3,995 prostate cancer cases and 3,815 control subjects drawn from four studies. In this set, we identified nominally significant association between a rare haplogroup, E1b1b1c, and prostate cancer in stage I (P = 0.012, OR = 0.51; 95% confidence interval 0.30-0.87). Population substructure of E1b1b1c carriers suggested Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, prompting a replication phase in individuals of both European and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. The association was not significant for prostate cancer overall in studies of either Ashkenazi Jewish (1,686 cases and 1,597 control subjects) or European (686 cases and 734 control subjects) ancestry (P(meta) = 0.078), but a meta-analysis of stage I and II studies revealed a nominally significant association with prostate cancer risk (P(meta) = 0.010, OR = 0.77; 95% confidence interval 0.62-0.94). Comparing haplogroup frequencies between studies, we noted strong similarities between those conducted in the US and France, in which the majority of men carried R1 haplogroups, resembling Northwestern European populations. On the other hand, Finns had a remarkably different haplogroup distribution with a preponderance of N1c and I1 haplogroups. In summary, our results suggest that inherited Y chromosome variation plays a limited role in prostate cancer etiology in European populations but warrant follow-up in additional large and well characterized studies of multiple ethnic backgrounds.

Pub.: 25 Jan '12, Pinned: 30 Jul '17

Mitochondrial DNA sequence variation in multiple sclerosis.

Abstract: To assess the influence of common mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence variation on multiple sclerosis (MS) risk in cases and controls part of an international consortium.We analyzed 115 high-quality mtDNA variants and common haplogroups from a previously published genome-wide association study among 7,391 cases from the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium and 14,568 controls from the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium 2 project from 7 countries. Significant single nucleotide polymorphism and haplogroup associations were replicated in 3,720 cases and 879 controls from the University of California, San Francisco.An elevated risk of MS was detected among haplogroup JT carriers from 7 pooled clinic sites (odds ratio [OR] = 1.15, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.07-1.24, p = 0.0002) included in the discovery study. The increased risk of MS was observed for both haplogroup T (OR = 1.17, 95% CI = 1.06-1.29, p = 0.002) and haplogroup J carriers (OR = 1.11, 95% CI = 1.01-1.22, p = 0.03). These haplogroup associations with MS were not replicated in the independent sample set. An elevated risk of primary progressive (PP) MS was detected for haplogroup J participants from 3 European discovery populations (OR = 1.49, 95% CI = 1.10-2.01, p = 0.009). This elevated risk was borderline significant in the US replication population (OR = 1.43, 95% CI = 0.99-2.08, p = 0.058) and remained significant in pooled analysis of discovery and replication studies (OR = 1.43, 95% CI = 1.14-1.81, p = 0.002). No common individual mtDNA variants were associated with MS risk.Identification and validation of mitochondrial genetic variants associated with MS and PPMS may lead to new targets for treatment and diagnostic tests for identifying potential responders to interventions that target mitochondria.

Pub.: 03 Jul '15, Pinned: 30 Jul '17

Haplogrouping mitochondrial DNA sequences in Legal Medicine/Forensic Genetics.

Abstract: Haplogrouping refers to the classification of (partial) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences into haplogroups using the current knowledge of the worldwide mtDNA phylogeny. Haplogroup assignment of mtDNA control-region sequences assists in the focused comparison with closely related complete mtDNA sequences and thus serves two main goals in forensic genetics: first is the a posteriori quality analysis of sequencing results and second is the prediction of relevant coding-region sites for confirmation or further refinement of haplogroup status. The latter may be important in forensic casework where discrimination power needs to be as high as possible. However, most articles published in forensic genetics perform haplogrouping only in a rudimentary or incorrect way. The present study features PhyloTree as the key tool for assigning control-region sequences to haplogroups and elaborates on additional Web-based searches for finding near-matches with complete mtDNA genomes in the databases. In contrast, none of the automated haplogrouping tools available can yet compete with manual haplogrouping using PhyloTree plus additional Web-based searches, especially when confronted with artificial recombinants still present in forensic mtDNA datasets. We review and classify the various attempts at haplogrouping by using a multiplex approach or relying on automated haplogrouping. Furthermore, we re-examine a few articles in forensic journals providing mtDNA population data where appropriate haplogrouping following PhyloTree immediately highlights several kinds of sequence errors.

Pub.: 04 Sep '12, Pinned: 30 Jul '17

Concept for estimating mitochondrial DNA haplogroups using a maximum likelihood approach (EMMA).

Abstract: The assignment of haplogroups to mitochondrial DNA haplotypes contributes substantial value for quality control, not only in forensic genetics but also in population and medical genetics. The availability of Phylotree, a widely accepted phylogenetic tree of human mitochondrial DNA lineages, led to the development of several (semi-)automated software solutions for haplogrouping. However, currently existing haplogrouping tools only make use of haplogroup-defining mutations, whereas private mutations (beyond the haplogroup level) can be additionally informative allowing for enhanced haplogroup assignment. This is especially relevant in the case of (partial) control region sequences, which are mainly used in forensics. The present study makes three major contributions toward a more reliable, semi-automated estimation of mitochondrial haplogroups. First, a quality-controlled database consisting of 14,990 full mtGenomes downloaded from GenBank was compiled. Together with Phylotree, these mtGenomes serve as a reference database for haplogroup estimates. Second, the concept of fluctuation rates, i.e. a maximum likelihood estimation of the stability of mutations based on 19,171 full control region haplotypes for which raw lane data is available, is presented. Finally, an algorithm for estimating the haplogroup of an mtDNA sequence based on the combined database of full mtGenomes and Phylotree, which also incorporates the empirically determined fluctuation rates, is brought forward. On the basis of examples from the literature and EMPOP, the algorithm is not only validated, but both the strength of this approach and its utility for quality control of mitochondrial haplotypes is also demonstrated.

Pub.: 21 Aug '13, Pinned: 30 Jul '17