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Systems-level analysis of age-related macular degeneration reveals global biomarkers and phenotype-specific functional networks

Aaron M Newman15, Natasha B Gallo1, Lisa S Hancox2, Norma J Miller3, Carolyn M Radeke1, Michelle A Maloney1, James B Cooper4, Gregory S Hageman3, Don H Anderson1, Lincoln V Johnson1 and Monte J Radeke1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for the Study of Macular Degeneration, Neuroscience Research Institute, Biological Sciences 2 Building, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5060, USA

2 Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Iowa, 200 Hawkins Drive Iowa City, IA 52242-1109, USA

3 Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, John A Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, 65 Mario Capecchi Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84132-5230, USA

4 Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Department, Life Sciences Building, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9610, USA

5 Current address: Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, 265 Campus Drive, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

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Genome Medicine 2012, 4:16  doi:10.1186/gm315

Published: 24 February 2012

Abstract

Background

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness that affects the central region of the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE), choroid, and neural retina. Initially characterized by an accumulation of sub-RPE deposits, AMD leads to progressive retinal degeneration, and in advanced cases, irreversible vision loss. Although genetic analysis, animal models, and cell culture systems have yielded important insights into AMD, the molecular pathways underlying AMD's onset and progression remain poorly delineated. We sought to better understand the molecular underpinnings of this devastating disease by performing the first comparative transcriptome analysis of AMD and normal human donor eyes.

Methods

RPE-choroid and retina tissue samples were obtained from a common cohort of 31 normal, 26 AMD, and 11 potential pre-AMD human donor eyes. Transcriptome profiles were generated for macular and extramacular regions, and statistical and bioinformatic methods were employed to identify disease-associated gene signatures and functionally enriched protein association networks. Selected genes of high significance were validated using an independent donor cohort.

Results

We identified over 50 annotated genes enriched in cell-mediated immune responses that are globally over-expressed in RPE-choroid AMD phenotypes. Using a machine learning model and a second donor cohort, we show that the top 20 global genes are predictive of AMD clinical diagnosis. We also discovered functionally enriched gene sets in the RPE-choroid that delineate the advanced AMD phenotypes, neovascular AMD and geographic atrophy. Moreover, we identified a graded increase of transcript levels in the retina related to wound response, complement cascade, and neurogenesis that strongly correlates with decreased levels of phototransduction transcripts and increased AMD severity. Based on our findings, we assembled protein-protein interactomes that highlight functional networks likely to be involved in AMD pathogenesis.

Conclusions

We discovered new global biomarkers and gene expression signatures of AMD. These results are consistent with a model whereby cell-based inflammatory responses represent a central feature of AMD etiology, and depending on genetics, environment, or stochastic factors, may give rise to the advanced AMD phenotypes characterized by angiogenesis and/or cell death. Genes regulating these immunological activities, along with numerous other genes identified here, represent promising new targets for AMD-directed therapeutics and diagnostics.

Please see related commentary: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/10/21/abstract webcite