Childhood obesity is a major public health issue. Here we investigated whether differential DNA methylation was associated with childhood obesity. We studied DNA methylation profiles in whole blood from 78 obese children (mean BMI Z-score: 2.6) and 71 age- and sex-matched controls (mean BMI Z-score: 0.1). DNA samples from obese and control groups were pooled and analyzed using the Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip array. Comparison of the methylation profiles between obese and control subjects revealed 129 differentially methylated CpG (DMCpG) loci associated with 80 unique genes that had a greater than 10% difference in methylation (P-value < 0.05). The top pathways enriched among the DMCpGs included developmental processes, immune system regulation, regulation of cell signaling, and small GTPase-mediated signal transduction. The associations between the methylation of selected DMCpGs with childhood obesity were validated using sodium bisulfite pyrosequencing across loci within the FYN, PIWIL4, and TAOK3 genes in individual subjects. Three CpG loci within FYN were hypermethylated in obese individuals (all P < 0.01), while obesity was associated with lower methylation of CpG loci within PIWIL4 (P = 0.003) and TAOK3 (P = 0.001). After building logistic regression models, we determined that a 1% increase in methylation in TAOK3, multiplicatively decreased the odds of being obese by 0.91 (95% CI: 0.86 - 0.97), and an increase of 1% methylation in FYN CpG3, multiplicatively increased the odds of being obese by 1.03 (95% CI: 0.99 - 1.07). In conclusion, these findings provide evidence that childhood obesity is associated with specific DNA methylation changes in whole blood, which may have utility as biomarkers of obesity risk.
Keywords: biomarkers; childhood obesity; epigenetics; genome-wide; methylation.