Honors & Awards
Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Helen Hay Whitney Foundation (2020-2023)
Elizabeth Young New Investigator Award, Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (2015)
Presidential Fellowship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2012-2013)
Sigma Xi Research Society, Princeton University (2012)
PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Biology (2019)
AB, Princeton University, Molecular and Cellular Biology (2012)
Joanna Wysocka, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Genome scans of facial features in East Africans and cross-population comparisons reveal novel associations.
2021; 17 (8): e1009695
Facial morphology is highly variable, both within and among human populations, and a sizable portion of this variation is attributable to genetics. Previous genome scans have revealed more than 100 genetic loci associated with different aspects of normal-range facial variation. Most of these loci have been detected in Europeans, with few studies focusing on other ancestral groups. Consequently, the degree to which facial traits share a common genetic basis across diverse sets of humans remains largely unknown. We therefore investigated the genetic basis of facial morphology in an East African cohort. We applied an open-ended data-driven phenotyping approach to a sample of 2,595 3D facial images collected on Tanzanian children. This approach segments the face into hierarchically arranged, multivariate features that capture the shape variation after adjusting for age, sex, height, weight, facial size and population stratification. Genome scans of these multivariate shape phenotypes revealed significant (p < 2.5 * 10-8) signals at 20 loci, which were enriched for active chromatin elements in human cranial neural crest cells and embryonic craniofacial tissue, consistent with an early developmental origin of the facial variation. Two of these associations were in highly conserved regions showing craniofacial-specific enhancer activity during embryological development (5q31.1 and 12q21.31). Six of the 20 loci surpassed a stricter threshold accounting for multiple phenotypes with study-wide significance (p < 6.25 * 10-10). Cross-population comparisons indicated 10 association signals were shared with Europeans (seven sharing the same associated SNP), and facilitated fine-mapping of causal variants at previously reported loci. Taken together, these results may point to both shared and population-specific components to the genetic architecture of facial variation.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009695
View details for PubMedID 34411106
3D facial phenotyping by biometric sibling matching used in contemporary genomic methodologies.
2021; 17 (5): e1009528
The analysis of contemporary genomic data typically operates on one-dimensional phenotypic measurements (e.g. standing height). Here we report on a data-driven, family-informed strategy to facial phenotyping that searches for biologically relevant traits and reduces multivariate 3D facial shape variability into amendable univariate measurements, while preserving its structurally complex nature. We performed a biometric identification of siblings in a sample of 424 children, defining 1,048 sib-shared facial traits. Subsequent quantification and analyses in an independent European cohort (n = 8,246) demonstrated significant heritability for a subset of traits (0.17-0.53) and highlighted 218 genome-wide significant loci (38 also study-wide) associated with facial variation shared by siblings. These loci showed preferential enrichment for active chromatin marks in cranial neural crest cells and embryonic craniofacial tissues and several regions harbor putative craniofacial genes, thereby enhancing our knowledge on the genetic architecture of normal-range facial variation.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009528
View details for PubMedID 33983923
Shared heritability of human face and brain shape.
Evidence from model organisms and clinical genetics suggests coordination between the developing brain and face, but the role of this link in common genetic variation remains unknown. We performed a multivariate genome-wide association study of cortical surface morphology in 19,644 individuals of European ancestry, identifying 472 genomic loci influencing brain shape, of which 76 are also linked to face shape. Shared loci include transcription factors involved in craniofacial development, as well as members of signaling pathways implicated in brain-face cross-talk. Brain shape heritability is equivalently enriched near regulatory regions active in either forebrain organoids or facial progenitors. However, we do not detect significant overlap between shared brain-face genome-wide association study signals and variants affecting behavioral-cognitive traits. These results suggest that early in embryogenesis, the face and brain mutually shape each other through both structural effects and paracrine signaling, but this interplay may not impact later brain development associated with cognitive function.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41588-021-00827-w
View details for PubMedID 33821002
GWAS of three molecular traits highlights core genes and pathways alongside a highly polygenic background.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been used to study the genetic basis of a wide variety of complex diseases and other traits. We describe UK Biobank GWAS results for three molecular traits-urate, IGF-1, and testosterone-with better-understood biology than most other complex traits. We find that many of the most significant hits are readily interpretable. We observe huge enrichment of associations near genes involved in the relevant biosynthesis, transport, or signaling pathways. We show how GWAS data illuminate the biology of each trait, including differences in testosterone regulation between females and males. At the same time, even these molecular traits are highly polygenic, with many thousands of variants spread across the genome contributing to trait variance. In summary, for these three molecular traits we identify strong enrichment of signal in putative core gene sets, even while most of the SNP-based heritability is driven by a massively polygenic background.
View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.58615
View details for PubMedID 33587031
The Intersection of the Genetic Architectures of Orofacial Clefts and Normal Facial Variation.
Frontiers in genetics
2021; 12: 626403
Unaffected relatives of individuals with non-syndromic cleft lip with or without cleft palate (NSCL/P) show distinctive facial features. The presence of this facial endophenotype is potentially an expression of underlying genetic susceptibility to NSCL/P in the larger unselected population. To explore this hypothesis, we first partitioned the face into 63 partially overlapping regions representing global-to-local facial morphology and then defined endophenotypic traits by contrasting the 3D facial images from 264 unaffected parents of individuals with NSCL/P versus 3,171 controls. We observed distinct facial features between parents and controls across 59 global-to-local facial segments at nominal significance (p ≤ 0.05) and 52 segments at Bonferroni corrected significance (p < 1.2 * 10-3), respectively. Next, we quantified these distinct facial features as univariate traits in another dataset of 8,246 unaffected European individuals and performed a genome-wide association study. We identified 29 independent genetic loci that were associated (p < 5 * 10-8) with at least one of the tested endophenotypic traits, and nine genetic loci also passed the study-wide threshold (p < 8.47 * 10-10). Of the 29 loci, 22 were in proximity of loci previously associated with normal facial variation, 18 were near genes that show strong evidence in orofacial clefting (OFC), and another 10 showed some evidence in OFC. Additionally, polygenic risk scores for NSCL/P showed associations with the endophenotypic traits. This study thus supports the hypothesis of a shared genetic architecture of normal facial development and OFC.
View details for DOI 10.3389/fgene.2021.626403
View details for PubMedID 33692830
Human-chimpanzee fused cells reveal cis-regulatory divergence underlying skeletal evolution.
Gene regulatory divergence is thought to play a central role in determining human-specific traits. However, our ability to link divergent regulation to divergent phenotypes is limited. Here, we utilized human-chimpanzee hybrid induced pluripotent stem cells to study gene expression separating these species. The tetraploid hybrid cells allowed us to separate cis- from trans-regulatory effects, and to control for nongenetic confounding factors. We differentiated these cells into cranial neural crest cells, the primary cell type giving rise to the face. We discovered evidence of lineage-specific selection on the hedgehog signaling pathway, including a human-specific sixfold down-regulation of EVC2 (LIMBIN), a key hedgehog gene. Inducing a similar down-regulation of EVC2 substantially reduced hedgehog signaling output. Mice and humans lacking functional EVC2 show striking phenotypic parallels to human-chimpanzee craniofacial differences, suggesting that the regulatory divergence of hedgehog signaling may have contributed to the unique craniofacial morphology of humans.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41588-021-00804-3
View details for PubMedID 33731941
- Publisher Correction: Human-chimpanzee fused cells reveal cis-regulatory divergence underlying skeletal evolution. Nature genetics 2021
Insights into the genetic architecture of the human face.
The human face is complex and multipartite, and characterization of its genetic architecture remains challenging. Using a multivariate genome-wide association study meta-analysis of 8,246 European individuals, we identified 203 genome-wide-significant signals (120 also study-wide significant) associated with normal-range facial variation. Follow-up analyses indicate that the regions surrounding these signals are enriched for enhancer activity in cranial neural crest cells and craniofacial tissues, several regions harbor multiple signals with associations to different facial phenotypes, and there is evidence for potential coordinated actions of variants. In summary, our analyses provide insights into the understanding of how complex morphological traits are shaped by both individual and coordinated genetic actions.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41588-020-00741-7
View details for PubMedID 33288918
Quantitative analysis of Y-Chromosome gene expression across 36 human tissues.
Little is known about how human Y-Chromosome gene expression directly contributes to differences between XX (female) and XY (male) individuals in nonreproductive tissues. Here, we analyzed quantitative profiles of Y-Chromosome gene expression across 36 human tissues from hundreds of individuals. Although it is often said that Y-Chromosome genes are lowly expressed outside the testis, we report many instances of elevated Y-Chromosome gene expression in a nonreproductive tissue. A notable example is EIF1AY, which encodes eukaryotic translation initiation factor 1A Y-linked, together with its X-linked homolog EIF1AX Evolutionary loss of a Y-linked microRNA target site enabled up-regulation of EIF1AY, but not of EIF1AX, in the heart. Consequently, this essential translation initiation factor is nearly twice as abundant in male as in female heart tissue at the protein level. Divergence between the X and Y Chromosomes in regulatory sequence can therefore lead to tissue-specific Y-Chromosome-driven sex biases in expression of critical, dosage-sensitive regulatory genes.
View details for DOI 10.1101/gr.261248.120
View details for PubMedID 32461223
Conservation, acquisition, and functional impact of sex-biased gene expression in mammals.
Science (New York, N.Y.)
2019; 365 (6450)
Sex differences abound in human health and disease, as they do in other mammals used as models. The extent to which sex differences are conserved at the molecular level across species and tissues is unknown. We surveyed sex differences in gene expression in human, macaque, mouse, rat, and dog, across 12 tissues. In each tissue, we identified hundreds of genes with conserved sex-biased expression-findings that, combined with genomic analyses of human height, explain ~12% of the difference in height between females and males. We surmise that conserved sex biases in expression of genes otherwise operating equivalently in females and males contribute to sex differences in traits. However, most sex-biased expression arose during the mammalian radiation, which suggests that careful attention to interspecies divergence is needed when modeling human sex differences.
View details for DOI 10.1126/science.aaw7317
View details for PubMedID 31320509
Mammalian germ cells are determined after PGC colonization of the nascent gonad.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Mammalian primordial germ cells (PGCs) are induced in the embryonic epiblast, before migrating to the nascent gonads. In fish, frogs, and birds, the germline segregates even earlier, through the action of maternally inherited germ plasm. Across vertebrates, migrating PGCs retain a broad developmental potential, regardless of whether they were induced or maternally segregated. In mammals, this potential is indicated by expression of pluripotency factors, and the ability to generate teratomas and pluripotent cell lines. How the germline loses this developmental potential remains unknown. Our genome-wide analyses of embryonic human and mouse germlines reveal a conserved transcriptional program, initiated in PGCs after gonadal colonization, that differentiates germ cells from their germline precursors and from somatic lineages. Through genetic studies in mice and pigs, we demonstrate that one such gonad-induced factor, the RNA-binding protein DAZL, is necessary in vivo to restrict the developmental potential of the germline; DAZL's absence prolongs expression of a Nanog pluripotency reporter, facilitates derivation of pluripotent cell lines, and causes spontaneous gonadal teratomas. Based on these observations in humans, mice, and pigs, we propose that germ cells are determined after gonadal colonization in mammals. We suggest that germ cell determination was induced late in embryogenesis-after organogenesis has begun-in the common ancestor of all vertebrates, as in modern mammals, where this transition is induced by somatic cells of the gonad. We suggest that failure of this process of germ cell determination likely accounts for the origin of human testis cancer.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1910733116
View details for PubMedID 31754036
Conserved microRNA targeting reveals preexisting gene dosage sensitivities that shaped amniote sex chromosome evolution.
2018; 28 (4): 474–83
Mammalian X and Y Chromosomes evolved from an ordinary autosomal pair. Genetic decay of the Y led to X Chromosome inactivation (XCI) in females, but some Y-linked genes were retained during the course of sex chromosome evolution, and many X-linked genes did not become subject to XCI. We reconstructed gene-by-gene dosage sensitivities on the ancestral autosomes through phylogenetic analysis of microRNA (miRNA) target sites and compared these preexisting characteristics to the current status of Y-linked and X-linked genes in mammals. Preexisting heterogeneities in dosage sensitivity, manifesting as differences in the extent of miRNA-mediated repression, predicted either the retention of a Y homolog or the acquisition of XCI following Y gene decay. Analogous heterogeneities among avian Z-linked genes predicted either the retention of a W homolog or gene-specific dosage compensation following W gene decay. Genome-wide analyses of human copy number variation indicate that these heterogeneities consisted of sensitivity to both increases and decreases in dosage. We propose a model of XY/ZW evolution incorporating such preexisting dosage sensitivities in determining the evolutionary fates of individual genes. Our findings thus provide a more complete view of the role of dosage sensitivity in shaping the mammalian and avian sex chromosomes and reveal an important role for post-transcriptional regulatory sequences (miRNA target sites) in sex chromosome evolution.
View details for DOI 10.1101/gr.230433.117
View details for PubMedID 29449410
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5880238
Chemical sensing by nonequilibrium cooperative receptors.
Physical review letters
2013; 110 (24): 248102
Cooperativity arising from local interactions in equilibrium receptor systems provides gain, but does not increase sensory performance, as measured by the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) due to a fundamental tradeoff between gain and intrinsic noise. Here we allow sensing to be a nonequilibrium process and show that energy dissipation cannot circumvent the fundamental tradeoff, so that the SNR is still optimal for independent receptors. For systems requiring high gain, nonequilibrium 2D-coupled receptors maximize the SNR, revealing a new design principle for biological sensors.
View details for DOI 10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.248102
View details for PubMedID 25165963
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4114058