Genetic estimators of DNA methylation provide insights into the molecular basis of polygenic traits

Transl Psychiatry. 2018 Jan 31;8(1):31. doi: 10.1038/s41398-017-0070-x.


The large biological distance between genetic risk loci and their mechanistic consequences in the tissue of interest limits the ability to establish functionality of susceptibility variants for genetically complex traits. Such a biological gap may be reduced through the systematic study of molecular mediators of genomic action, such as epigenetic modification. Here, we report the identification of robust genetic estimators of whole-blood CpG methylation, which can serve as intermediate molecular traits amenable to association testing with other genetically complex traits. We describe the relationship between these estimators and gene expression, demonstrate their genome-wide applicability to association testing even in the absence of individual genotypic data, and show that these estimators powerfully identify methylation-related genomic loci associated with polygenic traits and common diseases, such as schizophrenia. The use of genetic estimators for blood DNA methylation, which are made publically available, can serve as a valuable tool for the identification of epigenetic underpinnings of complex traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • CpG Islands / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / genetics*
  • Genetic Loci / genetics*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics*
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Young Adult