DNA methylation levels and long-term trihalomethane exposure in drinking water: an epigenome-wide association study

Epigenetics. 2015;10(7):650-61. doi: 10.1080/15592294.2015.1057672.


Trihalomethanes (THM) are undesired disinfection byproducts (DBPs) formed during water treatment. Mice exposed to DBPs showed global DNA hypomethylation and c-myc and c-jun gene-specific hypomethylation, while evidence of epigenetic effects in humans is scarce. We explored the association between lifetime THM exposure and DNA methylation through an epigenome-wide association study. We selected 138 population-based controls from a case-control study of colorectal cancer conducted in Barcelona, Spain, exposed to average lifetime THM levels ≤85 μg/L vs. >85 μg/L (N = 68 and N = 70, respectively). Mean age of participants was 70 years, and 54% were male. Average lifetime THM level in the exposure groups was 64 and 130 µg/L, respectively. DNA was extracted from whole blood and was bisulphite converted to measure DNA methylation levels using the Illumina HumanMethylation450 BeadChip. Data preprocessing was performed using RnBeads. Methylation was compared between exposure groups using empirical Bayes moderated linear regression for CpG sites and Gaussian kernel for CpG regions. ConsensusPathDB was used for gene set enrichment. Statistically significant differences in methylation between exposure groups was found in 140 CpG sites and 30 gene-related regions, after false discovery rate <0.05 and adjustment for age, sex, methylation first principal component, and blood cell proportion. The annotated genes were localized to several cancer pathways. Among them, 29 CpGs had methylation levels associated with THM levels (|Δβ|≥0.05) located in 11 genes associated with cancer in other studies. Our results suggest that THM exposure may affect DNA methylation in genes related to tumors, including colorectal and bladder cancers. Future confirmation studies are required.

Keywords: DNA methylation; MYNN; RB1; SMAD3; SOX2; drinking water; environmental epidemiology; illumina humanMethylation450K; trihalomethanes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Drinking Water / chemistry*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spain
  • Trihalomethanes / toxicity*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / genetics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Drinking Water
  • Trihalomethanes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical