A Multiomics Approach to Identify Genes Associated with Childhood Asthma Risk and Morbidity

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Childhood asthma is a complex disease. In this study, we aim to identify genes associated with childhood asthma through a multiomics “vertical” approach that integrates multiple analytical steps using linear and logistic regression models. In a case-control study of childhood asthma in Puerto Ricans (n = 1,127), we used adjusted linear or logistic regression models to evaluate associations between several analytical steps of omics data, including genome-wide (GW) genotype data, GW methylation, GW expression profiling, cytokine levels, asthma-intermediate phenotypes, and asthma status. At each point, only the top genes/single-nucleotide polymorphisms/probes/cytokines were carried forward for subsequent analysis. In step 1, asthma modified the gene expression-protein level association for 1,645 genes; pathway analysis showed an enrichment of these genes in the cytokine signaling system (n = 269 genes). In steps 2-3, expression levels of 40 genes were associated with intermediate phenotypes (asthma onset age, forced expiratory volume in 1 second, exacerbations, eosinophil counts, and skin test reactivity); of those, methylation of seven genes was also associated with asthma. Of these seven candidate genes, IL5RA was also significant in analytical steps 4-8. We then measured plasma IL-5 receptor α levels, which were associated with asthma age of onset and moderate-severe exacerbations. In addition, in silico database analysis showed that several of our identified IL5RA single-nucleotide polymorphisms are associated with transcription factors related to asthma and atopy. This approach integrates several analytical steps and is able to identify biologically relevant asthma-related genes, such as IL5RA. It differs from other methods that rely on complex statistical models with various assumptions.

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