Diurnal preference is an individual's preference for daily activities and sleep timing and is strongly correlated with the underlying circadian clock and the sleep-wake cycle validating its use as an indirect circadian measure in humans. Recent research has implicated DNA methylation as a mechanism involved in the regulation of the circadian clock system in humans and other mammals. In order to evaluate the extent of epigenetic differences associated with diurnal preference, we examined genome-wide patterns of DNA methylation in DNA from monozygotic (MZ) twin-pairs discordant for diurnal preference. MZ twins were selected from a longitudinal twin study designed to investigate the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in the development of emotional and behavioral difficulties. Fifteen pairs of MZ twins were identified in which one member scored considerably higher on the Horne-Ostberg Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ) than the other. Genome-wide DNA methylation patterns were assessed in twins' buccal cell DNA using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChips. Quality control and data pre-processing was undertaken using the wateRmelon package. Differentially methylated probes (DMPs) were identified using an analysis strategy taking into account both the significance and the magnitude of DNA methylation differences. Our data indicate that DNA methylation differences are detectable in MZ twins discordant for diurnal preference. Moreover, downstream gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis on the top-ranked diurnal preference associated DMPs revealed significant enrichment of pathways that have been previously associated with circadian rhythm regulation, including cell adhesion processes and calcium ion binding.
Keywords: DNA methylation; circadian rhythm; diurnal preference; epigenetics; monozygotic twins.