A DNA Methylation Map of Human Atherosclerosis
Background—Epigenetic alterations may contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. In particular, DNA methylation, a reversible and highly regulated DNA modification, could influence disease onset and progression since it functions as an effector for environmental influences, including diet and lifestyle, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
Methods and Results—To address the role of DNA methylation changes in atherosclerosis, we compared a donor-matched healthy and atherosclerotic human aorta sample using whole-genome shotgun bisulfite sequencing. We observed that the atherosclerotic portion of the aorta was hypermethylated across many genomic loci in comparison with the matched healthy counterpart. Furthermore, we defined specific loci of differential DNA methylation using a set of donor-matched aortic samples and a high-density (>450,000 CpG sites) DNA methylation microarray. The functional importance in the disease was corroborated by crossing the DNA methylation signature with the corresponding expression data of the same samples. Among the differentially methylated CpGs associated with atherosclerosis onset, we identified genes participating in endothelial and smooth muscle functions. These findings provide new clues towards a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of atherosclerosis.
Conclusions—Our data identify an atherosclerosis-specific DNA methylation profile that highlights the contribution of different genes and pathways to the disorder. Interestingly, the observed gain of DNA methylation in the atherosclerotic lesions justifies efforts to develop DNA demethylating agents for therapeutic benefit.
- Received September 5, 2013.
- Revision received May 30, 2014.
- Accepted June 20, 2014.