Objectives: Anxiety is associated with elevated levels of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) and an increased risk for diseases with an inflammatory aetiology. In cancer, higher levels of IL-6 have been associated with increased expression of the epigenetic enzymes DNMT1 and Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 (EZH2). However, the relationship between IL-6 and DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) and EZH2 expression has not previously been examined in anxious individuals.
Methods: Global DNA methylation levels were measured using the Methylflash Methylated DNA Quantification Kit and gene expression levels of the DNMT and EZH2 genes in anxious (n=25) and nonanxious individuals (n=22) were compared using quantitative real-time PCR. Specifically, we investigated whether global DNA methylation or aberrant expression of these genes was correlated with IL-6 mRNA and protein serum levels in anxious individuals.
Results: Anxious participants had significantly higher levels of global DNA methylation compared with controls (P=0.001). There were no differences in the mean mRNA expression levels of the DNMT1/3A/3B, EZH2 and IL-6 genes in anxious individuals compared with controls. However, the expression of DNMT1/3A, EZH2 and IL-6 genes increases with increasing Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale-Anxiety scores in the anxious cohort only. Interestingly, IL-6 gene expression was correlated strongly with DNMT1/3A/3B and EZH2 expression, highlighting a potential relationship between IL-6 and important epigenetic regulatory enzymes.
Conclusion: This study provides novel insight into the relationship between anxiety, epigenetics and IL-6. Moreover, our findings support the hypothesis that changes in DNA methylation profiles may contribute to the biology of anxiety.