Allele-specific methylation in the FADS genomic region in DNA from human saliva, CD4+ cells, and total leukocytes

Clin Epigenetics. 2018 Apr 6:10:46. doi: 10.1186/s13148-018-0480-5. eCollection 2018.


Background: Genetic variants within the fatty acid desaturase (FADS) gene cluster (human Chr11) are important regulators of long-chain (LC) polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) biosynthesis in the liver and consequently have been associated with circulating LC-PUFA levels. More recently, epigenetic modifications such as DNA methylation, particularly within the FADS cluster, have been shown to affect LC-PUFA levels. Our lab previously demonstrated strong associations of allele-specific methylation (ASM) between a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs174537 and CpG sites across the FADS region in human liver tissues. Given that epigenetic signatures are tissue-specific, we aimed to evaluate the methylation status and ASM associations between rs174537 and DNA methylation obtained from human saliva, CD4+ cells and total leukocytes derived from whole blood. The goals were to (1) determine if DNA methylation from these peripheral samples would display similar ASM trends as previously observed in human liver tissues and (2) evaluate the associations between DNA methylation and circulating LC-PUFAs.

Results: DNA methylation at six CpG sites spanning FADS1 and FADS2 promoter regions and a putative FADS enhancer region were determined in two Caucasian cohorts of healthy volunteers: leukocytes in cohort 1 (n = 89, median age = 43, 35% male) and saliva and CD4+ cells in cohort 2 (n = 32, median age = 41, 41% male). Significant ASM between rs174537 and DNA methylation at three CpG sites located in the FADS2 promoter region (i.e., chr11:61594865, chr11:61594876, chr11:61594907) and one CpG site in the putative enhancer region (chr11:61587979) were observed with leukocytes. In CD4+ cells, significant ASM was observed at CpG sites chr11:61594876 and chr11:61584894. Genotype at rs174537 was significantly associated with DNA methylation from leukocytes. Similar trends were observed with CD4+ cells, but not with saliva. DNA methylation from leukocytes and CD4+ cells also significantly correlated with circulating omega-6 LC-PUFAs.

Conclusions: We observed significant ASM between rs174537 and DNA methylation at key regulatory regions in the FADS region from leukocyte and CD4+ cells. DNA methylation from leukocytes also correlated with circulating omega-6 LC-PUFAs. These results support the use of peripheral whole blood samples, with leukocytes showing the most promise for future nutrigenomic studies evaluating epigenetic modifications affecting LC-PUFA biosynthesis in humans.

Keywords: CD4+; DNA methylation; FADS; Leukocytes; Omega-6; PUFA; Saliva; Whole blood; rs174537.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alleles
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / chemistry*
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 11 / genetics
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Delta-5 Fatty Acid Desaturase
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / genetics*
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Specificity
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • White People / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • Delta-5 Fatty Acid Desaturase
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases
  • FADS1 protein, human