Background: Epigenetic programming and epigenetic mechanisms driven by environmental factors are thought to play an important role in human health and ageing. Global DNA methylation has been postulated as an epigenetic marker for epidemiological studies as it is reflective of changes in gene expression linked to disease. How epigenetic mechanisms are affected by psychological, sociological and biological determinants of health still remains unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between socio-economic and lifestyle factors and epigenetic status, as measured by global DNA methylation content, in the pSoBid cohort, which is characterized by an extreme socio-economic and health gradient.
Methods: DNA was extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes using the Maxwell® 16 System and Maxwell® 16 Blood DNA Purification kit (Promega, UK). Global DNA methylation was assessed using Methylamp™ Global DNA Methylation Quantification Ultra kit (Epigentek, USA). Associations between global DNA methylation and socio-economic and lifestyle factors were investigated in linear regression models.
Results: Global DNA hypomethylation was observed in the most socio-economically deprived subjects. Job status demonstrated a similar relationship, with manual workers having 24% lower DNA methylation content than non-manual. Additionally, associations were found between global DNA methylation content and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and inflammation, including fibrinogen and interleukin-6 (IL-6), after adjustment for socio-economic factors.
Conclusions: This study has indicated an association between epigenetic status and socio-economic status (SES). This relationship has direct implications for population health and is reflected in further associations between global DNA methylation content and emerging biomarkers of CVD.