Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) testing several hundred thousand SNPs have been performed in multiple sclerosis (MS) and other complex diseases. Typically, the number of markers in which the evidence for association exceeds the genome-wide significance threshold is very small, and markers that do not exceed this threshold are generally neglected. Classical statistical analysis of these datasets in MS revealed genes with known immunological functions. However, many of the markers showing modest association may represent false negatives. We hypothesize that certain combinations of genes flagged by these markers can be identified if they belong to a common biological pathway. Here we conduct a pathway-oriented analysis of two GWAS in MS that takes into account all SNPs with nominal evidence of association (P < 0.05). Gene-wise P-values were superimposed on a human protein interaction network and searches were conducted to identify sub-networks containing a higher proportion of genes associated with MS than expected by chance. These sub-networks, and others generated at random as a control, were categorized for membership of biological pathways. GWAS from eight other diseases were analyzed to assess the specificity of the pathways identified. In the MS datasets, we identified sub-networks of genes from several immunological pathways including cell adhesion, communication and signaling. Remarkably, neural pathways, namely axon-guidance and synaptic potentiation, were also over-represented in MS. In addition to the immunological pathways previously identified, we report here for the first time the potential involvement of neural pathways in MS susceptibility.
Intronic expansion of a hexanucleotide GGGGCC repeat in the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) gene is the major cause of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia. However, the cellular function of the C9ORF72 protein remains unknown. Here, we demonstrate that C9ORF72 regulates endosomal trafficking. C9ORF72 colocalized with Rab proteins implicated in autophagy and endocytic transport: Rab1, Rab5, Rab7 and Rab11 in neuronal cell lines, primary cortical neurons and human spinal cord motor neurons, consistent with previous predictions that C9ORF72 bears Rab guanine exchange factor activity. Consistent with this notion, C9ORF72 was present in the extracellular space and as cytoplasmic vesicles. Depletion of C9ORF72 using siRNA inhibited transport of Shiga toxin from the plasma membrane to Golgi apparatus, internalization of TrkB receptor and altered the ratio of autophagosome marker light chain 3 (LC3) II:LC3I, indicating that C9ORF72 regulates endocytosis and autophagy. C9ORF72 also colocalized with ubiquilin-2 and LC3-positive vesicles, and co-migrated with lysosome-stained vesicles in neuronal cell lines, providing further evidence that C9ORF72 regulates autophagy. Investigation of proteins interacting with C9ORF72 using mass spectrometry identified other proteins implicated in ALS; ubiquilin-2 and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins, hnRNPA2/B1 and hnRNPA1, and actin. Treatment of cells overexpressing C9ORF72 with proteasome inhibitors induced the formation of stress granules positive for hnRNPA1 and hnRNPA2/B1. Immunohistochemistry of C9ORF72 ALS patient motor neurons revealed increased colocalization between C9ORF72 and Rab7 and Rab11 compared with controls, suggesting possible dysregulation of trafficking in patients bearing the C9ORF72 repeat expansion. Hence, this study identifies a role for C9ORF72 in Rab-mediated cellular trafficking.
Observational epidemiological studies are prone to confounding, reverse causation and various biases and have generated findings that have proved to be unreliable indicators of the causal effects of modifiable exposures on disease outcomes. Mendelian randomization (MR) is a method that utilizes genetic variants that are robustly associated with such modifiable exposures to generate more reliable evidence regarding which interventions should produce health benefits. The approach is being widely applied, and various ways to strengthen inference given the known potential limitations of MR are now available. Developments of MR, including two-sample MR, bidirectional MR, network MR, two-step MR, factorial MR and multiphenotype MR, are outlined in this review. The integration of genetic information into population-based epidemiological studies presents translational opportunities, which capitalize on the investment in genomic discovery research.
Accurate deleteriousness prediction for nonsynonymous variants is crucial for distinguishing pathogenic mutations from background polymorphisms in whole exome sequencing (WES) studies. Although many deleteriousness prediction methods have been developed, their prediction results are sometimes inconsistent with each other and their relative merits are still unclear in practical applications. To address these issues, we comprehensively evaluated the predictive performance of 18 current deleteriousness-scoring methods, including 11 function prediction scores (PolyPhen-2, SIFT, MutationTaster, Mutation Assessor, FATHMM, LRT, PANTHER, PhD-SNP, SNAP, SNPs&GO and MutPred), 3 conservation scores (GERP++, SiPhy and PhyloP) and 4 ensemble scores (CADD, PON-P, KGGSeq and CONDEL). We found that FATHMM and KGGSeq had the highest discriminative power among independent scores and ensemble scores, respectively. Moreover, to ensure unbiased performance evaluation of these prediction scores, we manually collected three distinct testing datasets, on which no current prediction scores were tuned. In addition, we developed two new ensemble scores that integrate nine independent scores and allele frequency. Our scores achieved the highest discriminative power compared with all the deleteriousness prediction scores tested and showed low false-positive prediction rate for benign yet rare nonsynonymous variants, which demonstrated the value of combining information from multiple orthologous approaches. Finally, to facilitate variant prioritization in WES studies, we have pre-computed our ensemble scores for 87 347 044 possible variants in the whole-exome and made them publicly available through the ANNOVAR software and the dbNSFP database.
Exosomes and microvesicles are extracellular nanovesicles released by most but not all cells. They are specifically equipped to mediate intercellular communication via the transfer of genetic information, including the transfer of both coding and non-coding RNAs, to recipient cells. As a result, both exosomes and microvesicles play a fundamental biological role in the regulation of normal physiological as well as aberrant pathological processes, via altered gene regulatory networks and/or via epigenetic programming. For example, microvesicle-mediated genetic transfer can regulate the maintenance of stem cell plasticity and induce beneficial cell phenotype modulation. Alternatively, such vesicles play a role in tumor pathogenesis and the spread of neurodegenerative diseases via the transfer of specific microRNAs and pathogenic proteins. Given this natural property for genetic information transfer, the possibility of exploiting these vesicles for therapeutic purposes is now being investigated. Stem cell-derived microvesicles appear to be naturally equipped to mediate tissue regeneration under certain conditions, while recent evidence suggests that exosomes might be harnessed for the targeted delivery of human genetic therapies via the introduction of exogenous genetic cargoes such as siRNA. Thus, extracellular vesicles are emerging as potent genetic information transfer agents underpinning a range of biological processes and with therapeutic potential.
Parkin, an E3 ubiquitin ligase implicated in Parkinsons disease, promotes degradation of dysfunctional mitochondria by autophagy. Using proteomic and cellular approaches, we show that upon translocation to mitochondria, Parkin activates the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) for widespread degradation of outer membrane proteins. This is evidenced by an increase in K48-linked polyubiquitin on mitochondria, recruitment of the 26S proteasome and rapid degradation of multiple outer membrane proteins. The degradation of proteins by the UPS occurs independently of the autophagy pathway, and inhibition of the 26S proteasome completely abrogates Parkin-mediated mitophagy in HeLa, SH-SY5Y and mouse cells. Although the mitofusins Mfn1 and Mfn2 are rapid degradation targets of Parkin, we find that degradation of additional targets is essential for mitophagy. These results indicate that remodeling of the mitochondrial outer membrane proteome is important for mitophagy, and reveal a causal link between the UPS and autophagy, the major pathways for degradation of intracellular substrates.
Determining the full complement of protein-coding genes is a key goal of genome annotation. The most powerful approach for confirming protein-coding potential is the detection of cellular protein expression through peptide massspectrometry(MS) experiments. Here, we mapped peptides detected in seven large-scale proteomics studies to almost 60% of the protein-coding genes in the GENCODE annotation of the human genome. We found a strong relationship between detection in proteomics experiments and both gene family age and cross-species conservation. Most of the genes for which we detected peptides were highly conserved. We found peptides for >96% of genes that evolved before bilateria. At the opposite end of the scale, we identified almost no peptides for genes that have appeared since primates, for genes that did not have any protein-like features or for genes with poor cross-species conservation. These results motivated us to describe a set of 2001 potential non-coding genes based on features such as weak conservation, a lack of protein features, or ambiguous annotations from major databases, all of which correlated with low peptide detection across the seven experiments. We identified peptides for just 3% of these genes. We show that many of these genes behave more like non-coding genes than protein-coding genes and suggest that most are unlikely to code for proteins under normal circumstances. We believe that their inclusion in the human protein-coding gene catalogue should be revised as part of the ongoing human genome annotation effort.
Inclusion body myopathy associated with Paget's disease of bone and frontotemporal dementia (IBMPFD) is a dominantly inherited degenerative disorder caused by mutations in the valosin-containing protein (VCP) gene. VCP (p97 in mouse, TER94 in Drosophila melanogaster and CDC48 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a highly conserved AAA(+)-ATPase that regulates a wide array of cellular processes. The mechanism of IBMPFD pathogenesis is unknown. Towards elucidating the pathogenic mechanism we have developed and characterized transgenic mice with ubiquitous expression of wild-type and disease-causing versions of human VCP/p97. Here, we report that mice expressing VCP/p97 harboring the mutations R155H or A232E develop pathology that is limited to muscle, brain and bone, recapitulating the spectrum of disease in humans with IBMPFD. The mice exhibit progressive muscle weakness and pathological examination of muscle shows classic characteristics of inclusion body myopathy including rimmed vacuoles and TDP-43 pathology. The mice exhibit abnormalities in behavioral testing and pathological examination of the brain shows widespread TDP-43 pathology. Furthermore, radiological examination of the skeleton reveals that mutant mice develop severe osteopenia accompanied by focal lytic and sclerotic lesions in vertebrae and femur. In vitro studies indicate that mutant VCP causes inappropriate activation of the NF-kappa B signaling cascade, which could contribute to the mechanism of pathogenesis in multiple tissues including muscle, bone and brain.
Mitochondrial dysfunction and perturbed degradation of proteins have been implicated in Parkinson's disease (PD) pathogenesis. Mutations in the Parkin and PINK1 genes are a cause of familial PD. PINK1 is a putative kinase associated with mitochondria, and loss of PINK1 expression leads to mitochondrial dysfunction, which increases with time. Parkin is suggested to be downstream of PINK1 and also mediates the removal of damaged mitochondria by macroautophagy (mitophagy). We investigated whether mitochondrial dysfunction in dopaminergic SH-SY5Y cells following decreased PINK1 expression by RNAi may in part be due to the inhibition of mitophagy. Reduced flux through the macroautophagy pathway was found to be coincident with the inhibition of ATP synthesis following 12 days of PINK1 silencing. Overexpression of parkin in these cells restored both autophagic flux and ATP synthesis. Overexpression and RNAi studies also indicated that PINK1 and parkin were required for mitophagy following CCCP-induced mitochondrial damage. The ubiquitination of several mitochondrial proteins, including mitofusin 1 and mitofusin 2, were detected within 3 h of CCCP treatment. These post-translational modifications were reduced following the silencing of parkin or PINK1. The ubiquitination of mitochondrial proteins appears to identify mitochondria for degradation and facilitate mitophagy. PINK1 and parkin are thus required for the removal of damaged mitochondria in dopaminergic cells, and inhibition of this pathway may lead to the accumulation of defective mitochondria which may contribute to PD pathogenesis.
Neurons are metabolically active cells with high energy demands at locations distant from the cell body. As a result, these cells are particularly dependent on mitochondrial function, as reflected by the observation that diseases of mitochondrial dysfunction often have a neurodegenerative component. Recent discoveries have highlighted that neurons are reliant particularly on the dynamic properties of mitochondria. Mitochondria are dynamic organelles by several criteria. They engage in repeated cycles of fusion and fission, which serve to intermix the lipids and contents of a population of mitochondria. In addition, mitochondria are actively recruited to subcellular sites, such as the axonal and dendritic processes of neurons. Finally, the quality of a mitochondrial population is maintained through mitophagy, a form of autophagy in which defective mitochondria are selectively degraded. We review the general features of mitochondrial dynamics, incorporating recent findings on mitochondrial fusion, fission, transport and mitophagy. Defects in these key features are associated with neurodegenerative disease. Charcot-Marie-Tooth type 2A, a peripheral neuropathy, and dominant optic atrophy, an inherited optic neuropathy, result from a primary deficiency of mitochondrial fusion. Moreover, several major neurodegenerative diseases-including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease-involve disruption of mitochondrial dynamics. Remarkably, in several disease models, the manipulation of mitochondrial fusion or fission can partially rescue disease phenotypes. We review how mitochondrial dynamics is altered in these neurodegenerative diseases and discuss the reciprocal interactions between mitochondrial fusion, fission, transport and mitophagy.
Prenatal famine in humans has been associated with various later-life consequences, depending on the gestational timing of the insult and the sex of the exposed individual. Epigenetic mechanisms have been proposed to underlie these associations. Indeed, animal studies and our early human data on the imprinted IGF2 locus indicated a link between prenatal nutritional and DNA methylation. However, it remains unclear how common changes in DNA methylation are and whether they are sex- and timing-specific paralleling the later-life consequences of prenatal famine exposure. To this end, we investigated the methylation of 15 loci implicated in growth and metabolic disease in individuals who were prenatally exposed to a war-time famine in 1944-45. Methylation of INSIGF was lower among individuals who were periconceptionally exposed to the famine (n = 60) compared with their unexposed same-sex siblings (P = 2 × 10−5), whereas methylation of IL10, LEP, ABCA1, GNASAS and MEG3 was higher (all P < 10−3). A significant interaction with sex was observed for INSIGF, LEP and GNASAS. Next, methylation of eight representative loci was compared between 62 individuals exposed late in gestation and their unexposed siblings. Methylation was different for GNASAS (P = 1.1 × 10−7) and, in men, LEP (P = 0.017). Our data indicate that persistent changes in DNA methylation may be a common consequence of prenatal famine exposure and that these changes depend on the sex of the exposed individual and the gestational timing of the exposure.
First- and second-generation sequencing technologies have led the way in revolutionizing the field of genomics and beyond, motivating are astonishing number of scientific advances, including enabling a more complete understanding of whole genome sequences and the information encoded therein, a more complete characterization of the methylome and transcriptome and a better understanding of interactions between proteins and DNA. Nevertheless, there are sequencing applications and aspects of genome biology that are presently beyond the reach of current sequencing technologies, leaving fertile ground for additional innovation in this space. In this review, we describe a new generation of single-molecule sequencing technologies (third-generation sequencing) that is emerging to fill this space, with the potential for dramatically longer read lengths, shorter time to result and lower overall cost.
The primary circulating form of vitamin D, 25-hydroxy-vitamin D [25(OH)D], is associated with multiple medical outcomes, including rickets, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and cancer. In a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of 4501 persons of European ancestry drawn from five cohorts, we identified single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the gene encoding group-specific component (vitamin D binding) protein, GC, on chromosome 4q12-13 that were associated with 25(OH) D concentrations: rs2282679 (P = 2.0 x 10(-30)), in linkage disequilibrium (LD) with rs7041, a non-synonymous SNP (D432E; P = 4.1 x 10(-22)) and rs1155563 (P = 3.8 x 10(-25)). Suggestive signals for association with 25(OH) D were also observed for SNPs in or near three other genes involved in vitamin D synthesis or activation: rs3829251 on chromosome 11q13.4 in NADSYN1 [encoding nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) synthetase; P = 8.8 x 10(-7)], which was in high LD with rs1790349, located in DHCR7, the gene encoding 7-dehydrocholesterol reductase that synthesizes cholesterol from 7-dehydrocholesterol; rs6599638 in the region harboring the open-reading frame 88 (C10orf88) on chromosome 10q26.13 in the vicinity of ACADSB (acyl-Coenzyme A dehydrogenase), involved in cholesterol and vitamin D synthesis (P = 3.3 x 10(-7)); and rs2060793 on chromosome 11p15.2 in CYP2R1 (cytochrome P450, family 2, subfamily R, polypeptide 1, encoding a key C-25 hydroxylase that converts vitamin D-3 to an active vitamin D receptor ligand; P = 1.4 x 10(-5)). We genotyped SNPs in these four regions in 2221 additional samples and confirmed strong genome-wide significant associations with 25(OH) D through meta-analysis with the GWAS data for GC (P = 1.8 x 10(-49)), NADSYN1/DHCR7 (P = 3.4 x 10(-9)) and CYP2R1 (P = 2.9 x 10(-17)), but not C10orf88 (P = 2.4 x 10(-5)).
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) are neurodegenerative diseases with clinical and pathological overlap. Landmark discoveries of mutations in the transactive response DNA-binding protein (TDP-43) and fused in sarcoma/translocated in liposarcoma (FUS/TLS) as causative of ALS and FTLD, combined with the abnormal aggregation of these proteins, have initiated a shifting paradigm for the underlying pathogenesis of multiple neurodegenerative diseases. TDP-43 and FUS/TLS are both RNA/DNA-binding proteins with striking structural and functional similarities. Their association with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases is redirecting research efforts toward understanding the role of RNA processing regulation in neurodegeneration.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of age-related dementia, characterized by progressive memory loss and cognitive disturbance. Mutations of presenilin 1 (PS1) and presenilin 2 (PS2) are causative factors for autosomal-dominant early-onset familial AD (FAD). Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology can be used to model human disorders and provide novel opportunities to study cellular mechanisms and establish therapeutic strategies against various diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases. Here we generate iPSCs from fibroblasts of FAD patients with mutations in PS1 (A246E) and PS2 (N141I), and characterize the differentiation of these cells into neurons. We find that FAD-iPSC-derived differentiated neurons have increased amyloid β42 secretion, recapitulating the molecular pathogenesis of mutant presenilins. Furthermore, secretion of amyloid β42 from these neurons sharply responds to γ-secretase inhibitors and modulators, indicating the potential for identification and validation of candidate drugs. Our findings demonstrate that the FAD-iPSC-derived neuron is a valid model of AD and provides an innovative strategy for the study of age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
A single cytosineguanine dinucleotide (CpG) site within coagulation factor II (thrombin) receptor-like 3 (F2RL3) was recently found to be hypomethylated in peripheral blood genomic DNA from smokers compared with former and non-smokers. We performed two epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) nested in a prospective healthy cohort using the Illumina 450K Methylation Beadchip. The two populations consisted of matched pairs of healthy individuals (n 374), of which half went on to develop breast or colon cancer. The association was analysed between methylation and smoking status, as well as cancer risk. In addition to the same locus in F2RL3, we report several loci that are hypomethylated in smokers compared with former and non-smokers, including an intragenic region of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor repressor gene (AHRR; cg05575921, P 2.31 10(15); effect size 1417), an intergenic CpG island on 2q37.1 (cg21566642, P 3.73 10(13); effect size 12) and a further intergenic region at 6p21.33 (cg06126421, P 4.96 10(11), effect size 78). Bisulphite pyrosequencing validated six loci in a further independent population of healthy individuals (n 180). Methylation levels in AHRR were also significantly decreased (P 0.001) and expression increased (P 0.0047) in the lung tissue of current smokers compared with non-smokers. This was further validated in a mouse model of smoke exposure. We observed an association with breast cancer risk for the 2q37.1 locus (P 0.003, adjusted for the smoking status), but not for the other loci associated with smoking. These data show that smoking has a direct effect on the epigenome in lung tissue, which is also detectable in peripheral blood DNA and may contribute to cancer risk.
Maternal smoking during pregnancy has been found to influence newborn DNA methylation in genes involved in fundamental developmental processes. It is pertinent to understand the degree to which the offspring methylome is sensitive to the intensity and duration of prenatal smoking. An investigation of the persistence of offspring methylation associated with maternal smoking and the relative roles of the intrauterine and postnatal environment is also warranted. In the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, we investigated associations between prenatal exposure to maternal smoking and offspring DNA methylation at multiple time points in approximately 800 mother-offspring pairs. In cord blood, methylation at 15 CpG sites in seven gene regions (AHRR, MYO1G, GFI1, CYP1A1, CNTNAP2, KLF13 and ATP9A) was associated with maternal smoking, and a dose-dependent response was observed in relation to smoking duration and intensity. Longitudinal analysis of blood DNA methylation in serial samples at birth, age 7 and 17 years demonstrated that some CpG sites showed reversibility of methylation (GFI1, KLF13 and ATP9A), whereas others showed persistently perturbed patterns (AHRR, MYO1G, CYP1A1 and CNTNAP2). Of those showing persistence, we explored the effect of postnatal smoke exposure and found that the major contribution to altered methylation was attributed to a critical window of in utero exposure. A comparison of paternal and maternal smoking and offspring methylation showed consistently stronger maternal associations, providing further evidence for causal intrauterine mechanisms. These findings emphasize the sensitivity of the methylome to maternal smoking during early development and the long-term impact of such exposure.
Studies of the major psychoses, schizophrenia (SZ) and bipolar disorder (BD), have traditionally focused on genetic and environmental risk factors, although more recent work has highlighted an additional role for epigenetic processes in mediating susceptibility. Since monozygotic (MZ) twins share a common DNA sequence, their study represents an ideal design for investigating the contribution of epigenetic factors to disease etiology. We performed a genome-wide analysis of DNA methylation on peripheral blood DNA samples obtained from a unique sample of MZ twin pairs discordant for major psychosis. Numerous loci demonstrated disease-associated DNA methylation differences between twins discordant for SZ and BD individually, and together as a combined major psychosis group. Pathway analysis of our top loci highlighted a significant enrichment of epigenetic changes in biological networks and pathways directly relevant to psychiatric disorder and neurodevelopment. The top psychosis-associated, differentially methylated region, significantly hypomethylated in affected twins, was located in the promoter of ST6GALNAC1 overlapping a previously reported rare genomic duplication observed in SZ. The mean DNA methylation difference at this locus was 6%, but there was considerable heterogeneity between families, with some twin pairs showing a 20% difference in methylation. We subsequently assessed this region in an independent sample of postmortem brain tissue from affected individuals and controls, finding marked hypomethylation (>25%) in a subset of psychosis patients. Overall, our data provide further evidence to support a role for DNA methylation differences in mediating phenotypic differences between MZ twins and in the etiology of both SZ and BD.
Mitochondrial succinate-coenzyme Q reductase (complex II) consists of four subunits, SDHA, SDHB, SDHC and SDHD. Heterozygous germline mutations in SDHB, SDHC, SDHD and SDHAF2 [encoding for succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) complex assembly factor 2] cause hereditary paragangliomas and pheochromocytomas. Surprisingly, no genetic link between SDHA and paraganglioma/pheochromocytoma syndrome has ever been established. We identified a heterozygous germline SDHA mutation, p.Arg589Trp, in a woman suffering from catecholamine-secreting abdominal paraganglioma. The functionality of the SDHA mutant was assessed by studying SDHA, SDHB, HIF-1 alpha and CD34 protein expression using immunohistochemistry and by examining the effect of the mutation in a yeast model. Microarray analyses were performed to study gene expression involved in energy metabolism and hypoxic pathways. We also investigated 202 paragangliomas or pheochromocytomas for loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at the SDHA, SDHB, SDHC and SDHD loci by BAC array comparative genomic hybridization. In vivo and in vitro functional studies demonstrated that the SDHA mutation causes a loss of SDH enzymatic activity in tumor tissue and in the yeast model. Immunohistochemistry and transcriptome analyses established that the SDHA mutation causes pseudo-hypoxia, which leads to a subsequent increase in angiogenesis, as other SDHx gene mutations. LOH was detected at the SDHA locus in the patient's tumor but was present in only 4.5% of a large series of paragangliomas and pheochromocytomas. The SDHA gene should be added to the list of genes encoding tricarboxylic acid cycle proteins that act as tumor suppressor genes and can now be considered as a new paraganglioma/pheochromocytoma susceptibility gene
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal adult-onset neurodegenerative disease primarily affecting motor neurons. We recently identified intermediate-length polyglutamine (polyQ) expansions (27-33 Qs) in ataxin 2 as a genetic risk factor for sporadic ALS in North American ALS patients. To extend these findings, we assessed the ataxin 2 polyQ repeat length in 1294 European ALS patients and 679 matched healthy controls. We observed a significant association between polyQ expansions and ALS (> 30 Qs; P = 6.2 x 10(-3)). Thus, intermediate-length ataxin 2 polyQ repeat expansions are associated with increased risk for ALS also in the European cohort. The specific polyQ length cutoff, however, appears to vary between different populations, with longer repeat lengths showing a clear association. Our findings support the hypothesis that ataxin 2 plays an important role in predisposing to ALS and that polyQ expansions in ataxin 2 are a significant risk factor for the disease.