Regional differences in mitochondrial DNA methylation in human post-mortem brain tissue

Clin Epigenetics. 2017 May 3;9:47. doi: 10.1186/s13148-017-0337-3. eCollection 2017.


Background: DNA methylation is an important epigenetic mechanism involved in gene regulation, with alterations in DNA methylation in the nuclear genome being linked to numerous complex diseases. Mitochondrial DNA methylation is a phenomenon that is receiving ever-increasing interest, particularly in diseases characterized by mitochondrial dysfunction; however, most studies have been limited to the investigation of specific target regions. Analyses spanning the entire mitochondrial genome have been limited, potentially due to the amount of input DNA required. Further, mitochondrial genetic studies have been previously confounded by nuclear-mitochondrial pseudogenes. Methylated DNA Immunoprecipitation Sequencing is a technique widely used to profile DNA methylation across the nuclear genome; however, reads mapped to mitochondrial DNA are often discarded. Here, we have developed an approach to control for nuclear-mitochondrial pseudogenes within Methylated DNA Immunoprecipitation Sequencing data. We highlight the utility of this approach in identifying differences in mitochondrial DNA methylation across regions of the human brain and pre-mortem blood.

Results: We were able to correlate mitochondrial DNA methylation patterns between the cortex, cerebellum and blood. We identified 74 nominally significant differentially methylated regions (p < 0.05) in the mitochondrial genome, between anatomically separate cortical regions and the cerebellum in matched samples (N = 3 matched donors). Further analysis identified eight significant differentially methylated regions between the total cortex and cerebellum after correcting for multiple testing. Using unsupervised hierarchical clustering analysis of the mitochondrial DNA methylome, we were able to identify tissue-specific patterns of mitochondrial DNA methylation between blood, cerebellum and cortex.

Conclusions: Our study represents a comprehensive analysis of the mitochondrial methylome using pre-existing Methylated DNA Immunoprecipitation Sequencing data to identify brain region-specific patterns of mitochondrial DNA methylation.

Keywords: 5-Methylcytosine; 5-mC; Blood; Brain; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; MeDIP-seq; Mitochondria; NUMTs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cerebellum / chemistry*
  • Cerebral Cortex / chemistry*
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / blood
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Organ Specificity
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial