High density methylation QTL analysis in human blood via next-generation sequencing of the methylated genomic DNA fraction.

Genome Biol

BACKGROUND: Genetic influence on DNA methylation is potentially an important mechanism affecting individual differences in humans. We use next-generation sequencing to assay blood DNA methylation at approximately 4.5 million loci, each comprising 2.9 CpGs on average, in 697 normal subjects. Methylation measures at each locus are tested for association with approximately 4.5 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to exhaustively screen for methylation quantitative trait loci (meQTLs).

RESULTS: Using stringent false discovery rate control, 15 % of methylation sites show genetic influence. Most meQTLs are local, where the associated SNP and methylation site are in close genomic proximity. Distant meQTLs and those spanning different chromosomes are less common. Most local meQTLs encompass common SNPs that alter CpG sites (CpG-SNPs). Local meQTLs encompassing CpG-SNPs are enriched in regions of inactive chromatin in blood cells. In contrast, local meQTLs lacking CpG-SNPs are enriched in regions of active chromatin and transcription factor binding sites. Of 393 local meQTLs that overlap disease-associated regions from genome-wide studies, a high percentage encompass common CpG-SNPs. These meQTLs overlap active enhancers, differentiating them from CpG-SNP meQTLs in inactive chromatin.

CONCLUSIONS: Genetic influence on the human blood methylome is common, involves several heterogeneous processes and is predominantly dependent on local sequence context at the meQTL site. Most meQTLs involve CpG-SNPs, while sequence-dependent effects on chromatin binding are also important in regions of active chromatin. An abundance of local meQTLs resulting from methylation of CpG-SNPs in inactive chromatin suggests that many meQTLs lack functional consequence. Integrating meQTL and Roadmap Epigenomics data could assist fine-mapping efforts.

Year of Publication
Genome Biol
Date Published
2015 Dec 23
PubMed ID
PubMed Central ID
Grant list
R01 MH077139 / MH / NIMH NIH HHS / United States
K01 AA021266 / AA / NIAAA NIH HHS / United States
K01 MH093731 / MH / NIMH NIH HHS / United States
R03 MH102723 / MH / NIMH NIH HHS / United States
R01 MH097283 / MH / NIMH NIH HHS / United States