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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 5;8(8):e71239. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071239. Print 2013.

AMD-associated genes encoding stress-activated MAPK pathway constituents are identified by interval-based enrichment analysis.

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  • 1Clinical Trials Branch, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.



To determine whether common DNA sequence variants within groups of genes encoding elements of stress-activated mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways are, in aggregate, associated with advanced AMD (AAMD).


We used meta-regression and exact testing methods to identify AAMD-associated SNPs in 1177 people with AAMD and 1024 AMD-free elderly peers from 3 large-scale genotyping projects on the molecular genetics of AMD. SNPs spanning independent AAMD-associated genomic intervals were examined with a multi-locus-testing method (INRICH) for enrichment within five sets of genes encoding constituents of stress-activated MAPK signaling cascades.


Four-of-five pathway gene sets showed enrichment with AAMD-associated SNPs; findings persisted after adjustment for multiple testing in two. Strongest enrichment signals (P = 0.006) existed in a c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK)/MAPK cascade (Science Signaling, STKE CMP_10827). In this pathway, seven independent AAMD-associated regions were resident in 6 of 25 genes examined. These included sequence variants in: 1) three MAP kinase kinase kinases (MAP3K4, MAP3K5, MAP3K9) that phosphorylate and activate the MAP kinase kinases MAP2K4 and MAP2K7 (molecules that phosphorylate threonine and tyrosine residues within the activation loop of JNK); 2) a target of MAP2K7 (JNK3A1) that activates complexes involved in transcriptional regulation of stress related genes influencing cell proliferation, apoptosis, motility, metabolism and DNA repair; and 3) NR2C2, a transcription factor activated by JNK1A1 (a drugable molecule influencing retinal cell viability in model systems). We also observed AAMD-related sequence variants resident in genes encoding PPP3CA (a drugable molecule that inactivates MAP3K5), and two genes (TGFB2, TGFBR2) encoding factors involved in MAPK sensing of growth factors/cytokines.


Linkage disequilibrium (LD)-independent genomic enrichment analysis yielded associations of AAMD with aggregates of functionally related genes encoding constituents of the JNK MAPK signaling pathway. FDA-approved drugs now exist to target constituents of stress-activated MAPK pathways and may offer reasonable approaches to preventing or treating AAMD.

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