Investigation of gene-environment interaction between Vitamin D and the colorectal cancer susceptibility genetic variant rs9929218
Vaughan-Shaw, Peter Gregory
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Colorectal cancer (CRC) is common, with >1 million annual incidence worldwide and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Prevention is a particularly appealing strategy to combat CRC, but there is a paucity of well-founded mechanistic research in the area. CRC is a complex disorder, with both genetic and environmental factors influencing incidence. The heritable component of CRC variance is estimated to be ~35%, with ~5% due to highly penetrant mutations. Common genetic variance likely makes up the majority of the heritable component, yet a large proportion of heritability remains unexplained. One possible explanation is gene-environment interactions (GxE) where-by both genetic and environmental factors interact to influence risk. Observational data implicate vitamin D as an environmental risk factor in CRC aetiology and in-house data indicates that genotype at the GWAS identified CRC risk locus rs9929218 influences this association, i.e. a GxE. The rs9929218 locus is intronic within CDH1, a tumour suppressor gene, and present evidence suggests a gene-environment interaction model of vitamin D-induced CDH1 transcription dependent on genotype at the rs9929218 locus and mediated by VDR and FOXO transcription factors and SIRT1, a FOXO regulator. To test this model, two broad approaches were employed - an observational approach to assess the association between human plasma vitamin D status, rs9929218 genotype and normal colorectal mucosa CDH1 expression and an interventional approach treating cell lines, organoids and human subjects with vitamin D to assess genotype-specific effects. Observational analysis of vitamin D level (25OHD) in CRC cases identified a significant influence of age, gender, BMI and selected vitamin D pathway genetic variation, while analysis of 424 normal colorectal mucosa samples from CRC cases and cancer-free subjects demonstrated strong sampling, gender, age and site differences in gene expression. 25OHD was not significantly associated with mucosa gene expression at individual gene level. However, association with a number of pathways relevant to tumourigenesis, including 'cell adhesion', 'migration' and 'cell death' was seen, providing possible mechanism to the published observational data. Circulating 25OHD level was not associated with mucosa CDH1 expression, yet crucially, analysis demonstrated a strong additive gene-environment interaction effect between plasma 25OHD, the rs9929218 genotype and NM expression of VDR, FOXO and SIRT1 explaining ~70% of the variance of mucosal CDH1 expression. The interventional approach first investigated vitamin D effects on CRC cell lines and human colorectal mucosa organoids. Calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, induced CDH1 expression in 4 CRC cell lines, with interaction effects explaining 66% of the variance of CDH1 expression. CDH1 induction was replicated in human colorectal epithelial organoids, a non-aberrant tissue model, while gene enrichment analysis from both cells and organoids implicate vitamin D in a number of processes relevant to CRC tumourigenesis including regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, migration and apoptosis, consistent with the pleiotropic effects of vitamin D reported in the published literature. Finally, a novel human intervention study was undertaken to investigate the impact of vitamin D supplementation in human blood and rectal mucosa. Short-term high-dose supplementation of 50 participants significantly induced CDH1 expression in rectal mucosa, with significant gene interaction effects between 25OHD, rs992818 genotype and CDH1, VDR and FOXO expression, thus independently replicating the same gene interaction effects seen in the human observational study. Meanwhile, transcriptome profiling identified numerous pathways relevant to tumourigenesis significantly enriched after supplementation, validating several pathways also associated with vitamin D status in the observational study. In summary, the research presented in this thesis demonstrates that vitamin D treatment of cells, epithelial organoids and human subjects induces CDH1 expression, and that strong gene interaction effects involving the colorectal cancer risk locus rs9929218 modulate this effect. FOXO transcription factors influence the gene interaction effect, consistent with the proposed model of ligand dependent regulation of FOXO by VDR and transcription activation of the CDH1 gene by the FOXO complex dependent on rs9929218 genotype. These data provide support for rectal CDH1 expression as an intermediate biomarker for vitamin D chemopreventive studies and suggest that gene environment interactions underlie some of the missing heritability of CRC.