Ahsan M, Ek WE, Rask-Andersen M, Karlsson T, Lind-Thomsen A, Enroth S, Gyllensten U, Johansson Å
PLoS Genet 13 (9) e1007005 [2017-09-00; online 2017-09-15]
Associations between epigenetic alterations and disease status have been identified for many diseases. However, there is no strong evidence that epigenetic alterations are directly causal for disease pathogenesis. In this study, we combined SNP and DNA methylation data with measurements of protein biomarkers for cancer, inflammation or cardiovascular disease, to investigate the relative contribution of genetic and epigenetic variation on biomarker levels. A total of 121 protein biomarkers were measured and analyzed in relation to DNA methylation at 470,000 genomic positions and to over 10 million SNPs. We performed epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) and genome-wide association study (GWAS) analyses, and integrated biomarker, DNA methylation and SNP data using between 698 and 1033 samples depending on data availability for the different analyses. We identified 124 and 45 loci (Bonferroni adjusted P < 0.05) with effect sizes up to 0.22 standard units' change per 1% change in DNA methylation levels and up to four standard units' change per copy of the effective allele in the EWAS and GWAS respectively. Most GWAS loci were cis-regulatory whereas most EWAS loci were located in trans. Eleven EWAS loci were associated with multiple biomarkers, including one in NLRC5 associated with CXCL11, CXCL9, IL-12, and IL-18 levels. All EWAS signals that overlapped with a GWAS locus were driven by underlying genetic variants and three EWAS signals were confounded by smoking. While some cis-regulatory SNPs for biomarkers appeared to have an effect also on DNA methylation levels, cis-regulatory SNPs for DNA methylation were not observed to affect biomarker levels. We present associations between protein biomarker and DNA methylation levels at numerous loci in the genome. The associations are likely to reflect the underlying pattern of genetic variants, specific environmental exposures, or represent secondary effects to the pathogenesis of disease.