DNA methylation in individuals with anorexia nervosa and in matched normal-eater controls: A genome-wide study

Int J Eat Disord. 2015 Nov;48(7):874-82. doi: 10.1002/eat.22374. Epub 2015 Mar 23.


Objective: Evidence associates anorexia nervosa (AN) with epigenetic alterations that could contribute to illness risk or entrenchment. We investigated the extent to which AN is associated with a distinct methylation profile compared to that seen in normal-eater women.

Method: Genome-wide methylation profiles, obtained using DNA from whole blood, were determined in 29 women currently ill with AN (10 with AN-restrictive type, 19 with AN-binge/purge type) and 15 normal-weight, normal-eater control women, using 450 K Illumina bead arrays.

Results: Regardless of type, AN patients showed higher and less-variable global methylation patterns than controls. False Discovery Rate corrected comparisons identified 14 probes that were hypermethylated in women with AN relative to levels obtained in normal-eater controls, representing genes thought to be associated with histone acetylation, RNA modification, cholesterol storage and lipid transport, and dopamine and glutamate signaling. Age of onset was significantly associated with differential methylation in gene pathways involved in development of the brain and spinal cord, while chronicity of illness was significantly linked to differential methylation in pathways involved with synaptogenesis, neurocognitive deficits, anxiety, altered social functioning, and bowel, kidney, liver and immune function.

Discussion: Although pre-existing differences cannot be ruled out, our findings are consistent with the idea of secondary alterations in methylation at genomic regions pertaining to social-emotional impairments and physical sequelae that are commonly seen in AN patients. Further investigation is needed to establish the clinical relevance of the affected genes in AN, and, importantly, reversibility of effects observed with nutritional rehabilitation and treatment.

Keywords: DNA methylation; anorexia nervosa; body mass index; brain development; eating disorders; epigenetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / blood*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / genetics*
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / genetics
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods
  • Humans
  • Young Adult