DNA methylation and adiposity phenotypes: an epigenome-wide association study among adults in the Strong Heart Study

Katherine C. Crocker, Arce Domingo-Relloso, Karin Haack, Amanda M. Fretts, Wan Yee Tang, Miguel Herreros, Maria Tellez-Plaza, M. Daniele Fallin, Shelley A. Cole, Ana Navas-Acien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Elevated adiposity is often posited by medical and public health researchers to be a risk factor associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other diseases. These health challenges are now thought to be reflected in epigenetic modifications to DNA molecules, such as DNA methylation, which can alter gene expression. Methods: Here we report the results of three Epigenome Wide Association Studies (EWAS) in which we assessed the differential methylation of DNA (obtained from peripheral blood) associated with three adiposity phenotypes (BMI, waist circumference, and impedance-measured percent body fat) among American Indian adult participants in the Strong Heart Study. Results: We found differential methylation at 8264 CpG sites associated with at least one of our three response variables. Of the three adiposity proxies we measured, waist circumference had the highest number of associated differentially methylated CpGs, while percent body fat was associated with the lowest. Because both waist circumference and percent body fat relate to physiology, we focused interpretations on these variables. We found a low degree of overlap between these two variables in our gene ontology enrichment and Differentially Methylated Region analyses, supporting that waist circumference and percent body fat measurements represent biologically distinct concepts. Conclusions: We interpret these general findings to indicate that highly significant regions of the genome (DMR) and synthesis pathways (GO) in waist circumference analyses are more likely to be associated with the presence of visceral/abdominal fat than more general measures of adiposity. Our findings confirmed numerous CpG sites previously found to be differentially methylated in association with adiposity phenotypes, while we also found new differentially methylated CpG sites and regions not previously identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2313-2322
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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