Background: Asthma is characterized by airflow limitation and airway reactivity (AR). Interleukin-13 (IL-13) is involved in the pathogenesis of asthma. Two functional SNPs, rs20541 and rs1800925, of the IL-13 gene (IL13) have been frequently associated with asthma-related lung functions. However, genetic variation alone does not fully explain asthma risk. DNA-methylation (DNA-M) is an epigenetic mechanism that regulates gene expression and can be influenced by both environment and genetic variants. To explore the interplay of prenatal maternal smoking, genetic variants and DNA-M, we used a two-stage model: (1) identifying cytosine phosphate guanine (CpG) sites where DNA-M is influenced by the interaction between genetic variants and maternal smoking during pregnancy (conditional methQTL (methylation quantitative trait loci)); and (2) determining the effect of the interaction between DNA-M of CpG (from stage 1) and SNPs (modifying genetic variants; modGV) on airflow limitation and AR in 245 female participants of the Isle of Wight birth cohort. DNA-M was assessed using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip.
Findings: Six CpG sites were analyzed in stage 1. DNA-M at cg13566430 was influenced by interaction of maternal smoking during pregnancy and rs20541. In stage 2, genotype at rs1800925 interacted with DNA-M at cg13566430 significantly affecting airflow limitation (P = 0.042) and AR (P = 0.01).
Conclusion: Both genetic variants and environment affect DNA-M. This study supports the proposed two-stage model (methQTL and modGV) to study genetic variants, environment and DNA-M interactions in asthma-related lung function.