Objective: Our pilot study evaluates the impact of environmental factors, such as nutrition and smoking status, on epigenetic patterns in a disease-associated gene.
Method: We measured the effects of malnutrition and cigarette smoking on proopiomelanocortin (POMC) promoter-specific DNA methylation in female patients with and without anorexia nervosa (AN). POMC and its derived peptides (alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone and adrenocorticotropic hormone) are implicated in stress and feeding response. Promoter-specific DNA methylation of the POMC gene was determined in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 54 healthy female control subjects, 40 underweight patients with AN, and 21 weight-restored patients with AN using bisulfite sequencing. Malnutrition was characterized by plasma leptin.
Results: POMC promoter-specific DNA methylation was not affected by diagnosis or nutritional status but significantly negatively associated with cigarette smoking.
Conclusions: Although malnutrition may be expected to reduce DNA methylation through its effects on one-carbon metabolism, our negative results are in line with several in vitro and clinical studies that did not show a direct relation between gene-specific DNA methylation and folate levels. In contrast, smoking has been repeatedly reported to alter DNA methylation of specific genes and should be controlled for in future epigenetic studies.