Active smoking is a major preventable public health problem and an established critical factor for epigenetic modification. In this systematic review, we identified 17 studies addressing the association of active smoking exposure with methylation modifications in blood DNA, including 14 recent epigenome-wide association studies (EWASs) and 3 gene-specific methylation studies (GSMSs) on the gene regions identified by EWASs. Overall, 1460 smoking-associated CpG sites were identified in the EWASs, of which 62 sites were detected in multiple (≥3) studies. The three most frequently reported CpG sites (genes) in whole blood samples were cg05575921 (AHRR), cg03636183 (F2RL3), and cg19859270 (GPR15), followed by other loci within intergenic regions 2q37.1 and 6p21.33. These significant smoking-related genes were further assessed by specific methylation assays in three GSMSs and reflected not only current but also lifetime or long-term exposure to active smoking. In conclusion, this review summarizes the evidences for the use of blood DNA methylation patterns as biomarkers of smoking exposure for research and clinical practice. In particular, it provides a reservoir for constructing a smoking exposure index score which could be used to more precisely quantify long-term smoking exposure and evaluate the risks of smoking-induced diseases.
Keywords: Active smoking; DNA methylation; Systematic review; Whole blood cells.