Background: Dopamine receptor D4(DRD4) polymorphisms have been associated with a number of psychiatric disorders, but little is known about the mechanism of these associations. DNA methylation is linked to the regulation of gene expression and plays a vital role in normal cellular function, with abnormal DNA methylation patterns implicated in a range of disorders. Recent evidence suggests DNA methylation can be influenced by cis-acting DNA sequence variation, that is, DNA sequence variation located nearby on the same chromosome.
Methods: To investigate the potential influence of cis-acting genetic elements within DRD4, we analysed DRD4 promoter DNA methylation levels in the transformed lymphoblastoid cell-line DNA of 89 individuals (from 30 family-trios). Five SNPs located +/- 10kb of the promoter region were interrogated for associations with DNA methylation levels.
Results: Four significant SNP associations were found with DNA methylation (rs3758653, rs752306, rs11246228 and rs936465). The associations of rs3758653 and rs936465 with DNA methylation were tested and nominally replicated (p-value < 0.05) in post-mortem brain tissue from an independent sample (N = 18). Interestingly, the DNA methylation patterns observed in post-mortem brain tissue were similar to those observed in transformed lymphoblastoid cell line DNA.
Conclusions: The link reported between DNA sequence and DNA methylation offers a possible functional role to seemingly non-functional SNP associations. DRD4 has been implicated in several psychiatric disease phenotypes and our results shed light upon the possible mode of action of SNP associations in this region.