Yongmei Liu
Professor of Medicine

Dr. Yongmei Liu is a genetic epidemiologist with appointments in Cardiology/Medicine and Neurology. Her primary interests are to better understand the molecular mechanisms of aging-related inflammatory diseases including diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease by studying genome, the interplay of genetic and environmental factors, and epigenomic and transcriptomic profiles. The combination of an unbiased genome-wide search in large sample sizes of disease relevant tissues/cells with longitudinal and randomized clinical trial designs, followed up by in vitro  and in vivo  experiments, is providing novel biomarkers for risk prediction and new insights into mechanisms that are involved in inflammatory diseases.

Current Research Interests

Our research program is centered on genomics, especially immunogenomics, to better understand the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in the development of diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. We have been leading the genome-wide association study of Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) cohort, a population-based, multi-ethnic, and prospective cohort of 3,000 elders. Our grant, Epigenomic Study of Atherosclerosis in the Multi-ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), funded through NIH RoadMap Epigenomics Initiatives in 2009 has enabled us to collect and purify high quality CD14+ monocytes and CD4+ T cells from fresh blood, drawn from 2,800 MESA participants at MESA exam 5 (2010-2012) from four out of the six communities. Our group is among the first to show that immunogenomics (e.g., DNA methylomics and transcriptomics) of purified disease-relevant cells, in a large cohort (e.g., circulating monocytes from ~1260 subjects), has robust power and promise, to discover the biology of inflammatory diseases. These published works have yielded new genes and gene pathways potentially causal to diabetes and CVD.

Our work in this area has been continuously funded by several NIH grants, including a randomized clinical trial grant. The aims of the grants are to assess the predictive power of the identified genomic features on the incidence of inflammatory diseases, and better understand the causes and consequences of the identified genomic features. We are also examining the causes of longitudinal changes of the genomic features by repeating the epigenomics and transcriptomics profiling of monocytes at MESA exam 6. Our current projects focus on the roles of transcriptomics, epigenomics (e.g., DNA methylation, histone modification, chromatin accessibility, et.al.,) and non-coding RNAs (in particular microRNAs, enhancer RNAs) in various tissue/cell types (including monoctyes, macrophages, T cells, and adipocytes), using state-of- the-art sequencing and new single-cell genomic technologies. We also conduct mechanistic and functional studies (in vitro and in vivo experiments) to follow up on most promising signals from population-based observational studies.


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