Division of Clinical Epidemiology and Aging Research, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Im Neuenheimer Feld 581, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany.
Background: Methylation quantitative trait loci (mQTLs) are the genetic variants that may affect the DNA methylation patterns of CpG sites. However, their roles in influencing the disturbances of smoking-related epigenetic changes have not been well established. This study was conducted to address whether mQTLs exist in the vicinity of smoking-related CpG sites (± 50 kb) and to examine their associations with smoking exposure and all-cause mortality in older adults.
Results: We obtained DNA methylation profiles in whole blood samples by Illumina Infinium Human Methylation 450 BeadChip array of two independent subsamples of the ESTHER study (discovery set, = 581; validation set, = 368) and their corresponding genotyping data using the Illumina Infinium OncoArray BeadChip. After correction for multiple testing (FDR), we successfully identified that 70 out of 151 previously reported smoking-related CpG sites were significantly associated with 192 SNPs within the 50 kb search window of each locus. The 192 mQTLs significantly influenced the active smoking-related DNA methylation changes, with percentage changes ranging from 0.01 to 18.96%, especially for the weakly/moderately smoking-related CpG sites. However, these identified mQTLs were not directly associated with active smoking exposure or all-cause mortality.
Conclusions: Our findings clearly demonstrated that if not dealt with properly, the mQTLs might impair the power of epigenetic-based models of smoking exposure to a certain extent. In addition, such genetic variants could be the key factor to distinguish between the heritable and smoking-induced impact on epigenome disparities. These mQTLs are of special importance when DNA methylation markers measured by Illumina Infinium assay are used for any comparative population studies related to smoking-related cancers and chronic diseases.