Differential DNA methylation regions in cytokine and transcription factor genomic loci associate with childhood physical aggression

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 19;8(8):e71691. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071691. eCollection 2013.


Background: Animal and human studies suggest that inflammation is associated with behavioral disorders including aggression. We have recently shown that physical aggression of boys during childhood is strongly associated with reduced plasma levels of cytokines IL-1α, IL-4, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10, later in early adulthood. This study tests the hypothesis that there is an association between differential DNA methylation regions in cytokine genes in T cells and monocytes DNA in adult subjects and a trajectory of physical aggression from childhood to adolescence.

Methodology/principal findings: We compared the methylation profiles of the entire genomic loci encompassing the IL-1α, IL-6, IL-4, IL-10 and IL-8 and three of their regulatory transcription factors (TF) NFkB1, NFAT5 and STAT6 genes in adult males on a chronic physical aggression trajectory (CPA) and males with the same background who followed a normal physical aggression trajectory (control group) from childhood to adolescence. We used the method of methylated DNA immunoprecipitation with comprehensive cytokine gene loci and TF loci microarray hybridization, statistical analysis and false discovery rate correction. We found differentially methylated regions to associate with CPA in both the cytokine loci as well as in their transcription factors loci analyzed. Some of these differentially methylated regions were located in known regulatory regions whereas others, to our knowledge, were previously unknown as regulatory areas. However, using the ENCODE database, we were able to identify key regulatory elements in many of these regions that indicate that they might be involved in the regulation of cytokine expression.

Conclusions: We provide here the first evidence for an association between differential DNA methylation in cytokines and their regulators in T cells and monocytes and male physical aggression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Cytokines / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • Genetic Association Studies*
  • Genetic Loci / genetics*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • STAT6 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Cytokines
  • STAT6 Transcription Factor
  • STAT6 protein, human
  • Transcription Factors

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE47193