Background: DNA methylation plays a vital role in normal cellular function, with aberrant methylation signatures being implicated in a growing number of human pathologies and complex human traits. Methods based on the modification of genomic DNA with sodium bisulfite are considered the 'gold-standard' for DNA methylation profiling on genomic DNA; however, they require relatively large amounts of DNA and may be prohibitively expensive when used on the large sample sizes necessary to detect small effects. We propose that a high-throughput DNA pooling approach will facilitate the use of emerging methylomic profiling techniques in large samples.
Results: Compared with data generated from 89 individual samples, our analysis of 205 CpG sites spanning nine independent regions of the genome demonstrates that DNA pools can be used to provide an accurate and reliable quantitative estimate of average group DNA methylation. Comparison of data generated from the pooled DNA samples with results averaged across the individual samples comprising each pool revealed highly significant correlations for individual CpG sites across all nine regions, with an average overall correlation across all regions and pools of 0.95 (95% bootstrapped confidence intervals: 0.94 to 0.96).
Conclusion: In this study we demonstrate the validity of using pooled DNA samples to accurately assess group DNA methylation averages. Such an approach can be readily applied to the assessment of disease phenotypes reducing the time, cost and amount of DNA starting material required for large-scale epigenetic analyses.