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Concept: DNA methylation


Estimates of biological age based on DNA methylation patterns, often referred to as “epigenetic age”, “DNAm age”, have been shown to be robust biomarkers of age in humans. We previously demonstrated that independent of chronological age, epigenetic age assessed in blood predicted all-cause mortality in four human cohorts. Here, we expanded our original observation to 13 different cohorts for a total sample size of 13,089 individuals, including three racial/ethnic groups. In addition, we examined whether incorporating information on blood cell composition into the epigenetic age metrics improves their predictive power for mortality. All considered measures of epigenetic age acceleration were predictive of mortality (p≤8.2x10(-9)), independent of chronological age, even after adjusting for additional risk factors (p<5.4x10(-4)), and within the racial/ethnic groups that we examined (non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, African Americans). Epigenetic age estimates that incorporated information on blood cell composition led to the smallest p-values for time to death (p=7.5x10(-43)). Overall, this study a) strengthens the evidence that epigenetic age predicts all-cause mortality above and beyond chronological age and traditional risk factors, and b) demonstrates that epigenetic age estimates that incorporate information on blood cell counts lead to highly significant associations with all-cause mortality.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Histone, DNA methylation


DNA methylation plays a critical role in the regulation and maintenance of cell-type specific transcriptional programs. Targeted epigenome editing is an emerging technology to specifically regulate cellular gene expression in order to modulate cell phenotypes or dissect the epigenetic mechanisms involved in their control. In this work, we employed a DNA methyltransferase Dnmt3a-Dnmt3L construct fused to the nuclease-inactivated dCas9 programmable targeting domain to introduce DNA methylation into the human genome specifically at the EpCAM, CXCR4 and TFRC gene promoters. We show that targeting of these loci with single gRNAs leads to efficient and widespread methylation of the promoters. Multiplexing of several guide RNAs does not increase the efficiency of methylation. Peaks of targeted methylation were observed around 25 bp upstream and 40 bp downstream of the PAM site, while 20-30 bp of the binding site itself are protected against methylation. Potent methylation is dependent on the multimerization of Dnmt3a/Dnmt3L complexes on the DNA. Furthermore, the introduced methylation causes transcriptional repression of the targeted genes. These new programmable epigenetic editors allow unprecedented control of the DNA methylation status in cells and will lead to further advances in the understanding of epigenetic signaling.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Epigenetics, DNA methylation


Epigenetic mechanisms are implicated in gene regulation and the development of different diseases. The epigenome differs between cell types and has until now only been characterized for a few human tissues. Environmental factors potentially alter the epigenome. Here we describe the genome-wide pattern of DNA methylation in human adipose tissue from 23 healthy men, with a previous low level of physical activity, before and after a six months exercise intervention. We also investigate the differences in adipose tissue DNA methylation between 31 individuals with or without a family history of type 2 diabetes. DNA methylation was analyzed using Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip, an array containing 485,577 probes covering 99% RefSeq genes. Global DNA methylation changed and 17,975 individual CpG sites in 7,663 unique genes showed altered levels of DNA methylation after the exercise intervention (q<0.05). Differential mRNA expression was present in 1/3 of gene regions with altered DNA methylation, including RALBP1, HDAC4 and NCOR2 (q<0.05). Using a luciferase assay, we could show that increased DNA methylation in vitro of the RALBP1 promoter suppressed the transcriptional activity (p = 0.03). Moreover, 18 obesity and 21 type 2 diabetes candidate genes had CpG sites with differences in adipose tissue DNA methylation in response to exercise (q<0.05), including TCF7L2 (6 CpG sites) and KCNQ1 (10 CpG sites). A simultaneous change in mRNA expression was seen for 6 of those genes. To understand if genes that exhibit differential DNA methylation and mRNA expression in human adipose tissue in vivo affect adipocyte metabolism, we silenced Hdac4 and Ncor2 respectively in 3T3-L1 adipocytes, which resulted in increased lipogenesis both in the basal and insulin stimulated state. In conclusion, exercise induces genome-wide changes in DNA methylation in human adipose tissue, potentially affecting adipocyte metabolism.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Epigenetics, RNA, Obesity, DNA methylation


Many groups, including our own, have proposed the use of DNA methylation profiles as biomarkers for various disease states. While much research has been done identifying DNA methylation signatures in cancer vs. normal etc., we still lack sufficient knowledge of the role that differential methylation plays during normal cellular differentiation and tissue specification. We also need thorough, genome level studies to determine the meaning of methylation of individual CpG dinucleotides in terms of gene expression.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cancer, Organism, Cellular differentiation, DNA methylation


Chromatin modifiers regulate lifespan in several organisms, raising the question of whether changes in chromatin states in the parental generation could be incompletely reprogrammed in the next generation and thereby affect the lifespan of descendants. The histone H3 lysine 4 trimethylation (H3K4me3) complex, composed of ASH-2, WDR-5 and the histone methyltransferase SET-2, regulates Caenorhabditis elegans lifespan. Here we show that deficiencies in the H3K4me3 chromatin modifiers ASH-2, WDR-5 or SET-2 in the parental generation extend the lifespan of descendants up until the third generation. The transgenerational inheritance of lifespan extension by members of the ASH-2 complex is dependent on the H3K4me3 demethylase RBR-2, and requires the presence of a functioning germline in the descendants. Transgenerational inheritance of lifespan is specific for the H3K4me3 methylation complex and is associated with epigenetic changes in gene expression. Thus, manipulation of specific chromatin modifiers only in parents can induce an epigenetic memory of longevity in descendants.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Methylation, Nucleosome


Here we report a unique cellular reprogramming phenomenon, called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), which requires neither nuclear transfer nor the introduction of transcription factors. In STAP, strong external stimuli such as a transient low-pH stressor reprogrammed mammalian somatic cells, resulting in the generation of pluripotent cells. Through real-time imaging of STAP cells derived from purified lymphocytes, as well as gene rearrangement analysis, we found that committed somatic cells give rise to STAP cells by reprogramming rather than selection. STAP cells showed a substantial decrease in DNA methylation in the regulatory regions of pluripotency marker genes. Blastocyst injection showed that STAP cells efficiently contribute to chimaeric embryos and to offspring via germline transmission. We also demonstrate the derivation of robustly expandable pluripotent cell lines from STAP cells. Thus, our findings indicate that epigenetic fate determination of mammalian cells can be markedly converted in a context-dependent manner by strong environmental cues.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Epigenetics, Developmental biology, Cell biology, DNA methylation


We tested the hypothesis that epigenetic mechanisms in the brain and the immune system are associated with chronic pain. Genome-wide DNA methylation assessed in 9 months post nerve-injury (SNI) and Sham rats, in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) as well as in T cells revealed a vast difference in the DNA methylation landscape in the brain between the groups and a remarkable overlap (72%) between differentially methylated probes in T cells and prefrontal cortex. DNA methylation states in the PFC showed robust correlation with pain score of animals in several genes involved in pain. Finally, only 11 differentially methylated probes in T cells were sufficient to distinguish SNI or Sham individual rats. This study supports the plausibility of DNA methylation involvement in chronic pain and demonstrates the potential feasibility of DNA methylation markers in T cells as noninvasive biomarkers of chronic pain susceptibility.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Brain, Histone, Epigenetics, Organism, DNA methylation, Premotor cortex


DNA methylation is a chemical modification of cytosine bases that is pivotal for gene regulation, cellular specification and cancer development. Here, we describe an R package, methylKit, that rapidly analyzes genome-wide cytosine epigenetic profiles from high-throughput methylation and hydroxymethylation sequencing experiments. methylKit includes functions for clustering, sample quality visualization, differential methylation analysis and annotation features, thus automating and simplifying many of the steps for discerning statistically significant bases or regions of DNA methylation. Finally, we demonstrate methylKit on breast cancer data, in which we find statistically significant regions of differential methylation and stratify tumor subtypes. methylKit is available at

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Cancer, Breast cancer, Histone, Epigenetics, RNA, DNA methylation


Epigenome mapping consortia are generating resources of tremendous value for studying epigenetic regulation. To maximize their utility and impact, new tools are needed that facilitate interactive analysis of epigenome datasets. Here we describe EpiExplorer, a web tool for exploring genome and epigenome data on a genomic scale. We demonstrate EpiExplorer’s utility by describing a hypothesis-generating analysis of DNA hydroxymethylation in relation to public reference maps of the human epigenome. All EpiExplorer analyses are performed dynamically within seconds, using an efficient and versatile text indexing scheme that we introduce to bioinformatics. EpiExplorer is available at

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Histone, Human Genome Project, DNA methylation, Methylation, X-inactivation, Computational epigenetics


Genome-wide DNA methylation reprogramming occurs in mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) and preimplantation embryos, but the precise dynamics and biological outcomes are largely unknown. We have carried out whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (BS-Seq) and RNA-Seq across key stages from E6.5 epiblast to E16.5 PGCs. Global loss of methylation takes place during PGC expansion and migration with evidence for passive demethylation, but sequences that carry long-term epigenetic memory (imprints, CpG islands on the X chromosome, germline-specific genes) only become demethylated upon entry of PGCs into the gonads. The transcriptional profile of PGCs is tightly controlled despite global hypomethylation, with transient expression of the pluripotency network, suggesting that reprogramming and pluripotency are inextricably linked. Our results provide a framework for the understanding of the epigenetic ground state of pluripotency in the germline.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Histone, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Methylation