28.07.2017 | Publication: Regions of common inter-individual DNA methylation differences in human monocytes: genetic basis and potential function

Christopher Schröder*, Elsa Leitão*, Stefan Wallner, Gerd Schmitz, Ludger Klein-Hitpass, Anupam Sinha, Karl-Heinz Jöckel, Stefanie Heilmann-Heimbach, Per Hoffmann, Markus M. Nöthen, Michael Steffens, Peter Ebert, Sven Rahmann and Bernhard Horsthemke
* Contributed equally
Epigenetics & Chromatin 2017
doi:10.1186/s13072-017-0144-2

There is increasing evidence for inter-individual methylation differences at CpG dinucleotides in the human genome, but the regional extent and function of these differences have not yet been studied in detail. For identifying regions of common methylation differences, we used whole genome bisulfite sequencing data of monocytes from five donors and a novel bioinformatic strategy.

We identified 157 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) with four or more CpGs, almost none of which has been described before. The DMRs fall into different chromatin states, where methylation is inversely correlated with active, but not repressive histone marks. However, methylation is not correlated with the expression of associated genes. High-resolution single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping of the five donors revealed evidence for a role of cis-acting genetic variation in establishing methylation patterns. To validate this finding in a larger cohort, we performed genome-wide association studies (GWAS) using SNP genotypes and 450k array methylation data from blood samples of 1128 individuals. Only 30/157 (19%) DMRs include at least one 450k CpG, which shows that these arrays miss a large proportion of DNA methylation variation. In most cases, the GWAS peak overlapped the CpG position, and these regions are enriched for CREB group, NF-1, Sp100 and CTCF binding motifs. In two cases, there was tentative evidence for a trans-effect by KRAB zinc finger proteins.

Allele-specific DNA methylation occurs in discrete chromosomal regions and is driven by genetic variation in cis and trans, but in general has little effect on gene expression