Pancreatic islets of type 2 diabetes patients have altered DNA methylation, contributing to islet dysfunction and the onset of type 2 diabetes. The cause of these epigenetic alterations is largely unknown. We set out to test whether (i) islet DNA methylation would change with aging and (ii) early postnatal overnutrition would persistently alter DNA methylation. We performed genome-scale DNA methylation profiling in islets from postnatally over-nourished (suckled in a small litter) and control male mice at both postnatal day 21 and postnatal day 180. DNA methylation differences were validated using quantitative bisulfite pyrosequencing, and associations with expression were assessed by RT-PCR. We discovered that genomic regions that are hypermethylated in exocrine relative to endocrine pancreas tend to gain methylation in islets during aging (R 2 = 0.33, P < 0.0001). These methylation differences were inversely correlated with mRNA expression of genes relevant to β cell function [including Rab3b (Ras-related protein Rab-3B), Cacnb3 (voltage-dependent L-type calcium channel subunit 3), Atp2a3 (sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticulum calcium ATPase 3) and Ins2 (insulin 2)]. Relative to control, small litter islets showed DNA methylation differences directly after weaning and in adulthood, but few of these were present at both ages. Surprisingly, we found substantial overlap of methylated loci caused by aging and small litter feeding, suggesting that the age-associated gain of DNA methylation happened much earlier in small litter islets than control islets. Our results provide the novel insights that aging-associated DNA methylation increases reflect an epigenetic drift toward the exocrine pancreas epigenome, and that early postnatal overnutrition may accelerate this process.
Keywords: DNA methylation; aging; endocrine pancreas; development; islet; epigenetics; islet aging; overnutrition; programing; programming; type II diabetes.