Gene-specific differential DNA methylation and chronic arsenic exposure in an epigenome-wide association study of adults in Bangladesh

Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Jan;123(1):64-71. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307884. Epub 2014 Oct 17.


Background: Inorganic arsenic is one of the most common naturally occurring contaminants found in the environment. Arsenic is associated with a number of health outcomes, with epigenetic modification suggested as a potential mechanism of toxicity.

Objective: Among a sample of 400 adult participants, we evaluated the association between arsenic exposure, as measured by blood and urinary total arsenic concentrations, and epigenome-wide white blood cell DNA methylation.

Methods: We used linear regression models to examine the associations between arsenic exposure and methylation at each CpG site, adjusted for sex, age, and batch. Differentially methylated loci were subsequently examined in relation to corresponding gene expression for functional evidence of gene regulation.

Results: In adjusted analyses, we observed four differentially methylated CpG sites with urinary total arsenic concentration and three differentially methylated CpG sites with blood arsenic concentration, based on the Bonferroni-corrected significance threshold of p < 1 × 10(-7). Methylation of PLA2G2C (probe cg04605617) was the most significantly associated locus in relation to both urinary (p = 3.40 × 10(-11)) and blood arsenic concentrations (p = 1.48 × 10(-11)). Three additional novel methylation loci-SQSTM1 (cg01225779), SLC4A4 (cg06121226), and IGH (cg13651690)--were also significantly associated with arsenic exposure. Further, there was evidence of methylation-related gene regulation based on gene expression for a subset of differentially methylated loci.

Conclusions: We observed significant associations between arsenic exposure and gene-specific differential white blood cell DNA methylation, suggesting that epigenetic modifications may be an important pathway underlying arsenic toxicity. The specific differentially methylated loci identified may inform potential pathways for future interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arsenic / blood
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Arsenic / urine
  • Arsenic Poisoning / genetics
  • Bangladesh
  • Cohort Studies
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA / blood
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • DNA
  • Arsenic