Altered DNA methylation is associated with aberrant gene expression in parenchymal but not airway fibroblasts isolated from individuals with COPD
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Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a heterogeneous disease of the lungs that is currently the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. Genetic factors account for only a small amount of COPD risk, but epigenetic mechanisms, including DNA methylation, have the potential to mediate the interactions between an individual's genetics and environmental exposure. DNA methylation is highly cell type-specific, and individual cell type studies of DNA methylation in COPD are sparse. Fibroblasts are present within the airway and parenchyma of the lung and contribute to the aberrant deposition of extracellular matrix in COPD. No assessment or comparison of genome-wide DNA methylation profiles in the airway and parenchymal fibroblasts from individuals with and without COPD has been undertaken. These data provide valuable insight into the molecular mechanisms contributing to COPD and the differing pathologies of small airways disease and emphysema in COPD. Methods: Genome-wide DNA methylation was evaluated at over 485,000 CpG sites using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip array in the airway (non-COPD n = 8, COPD n = 7) and parenchymal fibroblasts (non-COPD n = 17, COPD n = 29) isolated from individuals with and without COPD. Targeted gene expression was assessed by qPCR in matched RNA samples. Results: Differentially methylated DNA regions were identified between cells isolated from individuals with and without COPD in both airway and parenchymal fibroblasts. Only in parenchymal fibroblasts was differential DNA methylation associated with differential gene expression. A second analysis of differential DNA methylation variability identified 359 individual differentially variable CpG sites in parenchymal fibroblasts. No differentially variable CpG sites were identified in the airway fibroblasts. Five differentially variable-methylated CpG sites, associated with three genes, were subsequently assessed for gene expression differences. Two genes (OAT and GRIK2) displayed significantly increased gene expression in cells isolated from individuals with COPD. Conclusions: Differential and variable DNA methylation was associated with COPD status in the parenchymal fibroblasts but not airway fibroblasts. Aberrant DNA methylation was associated with altered gene expression imparting biological function to DNA methylation changes. Changes in DNA methylation are therefore implicated in the molecular mechanisms underlying COPD pathogenesis and may represent novel therapeutic targets.
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