DNA Methylation Is Predictive of Mortality in Current and Former Smokers

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2020 May 1;201(9):1099-1109. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201902-0439OC.


Rationale: Smoking results in at least a decade lower life expectancy. Mortality among current smokers is two to three times as high as never smokers. DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification of the human genome that has been associated with both cigarette smoking and mortality.Objectives: We sought to identify DNA methylation marks in blood that are predictive of mortality in a subset of the COPDGene (Genetic Epidemiology of COPD) study, representing 101 deaths among 667 current and former smokers.Methods: We assayed genome-wide DNA methylation in non-Hispanic white smokers with and without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) using blood samples from the COPDGene enrollment visit. We tested whether DNA methylation was associated with mortality in models adjusted for COPD status, age, sex, current smoking status, and pack-years of cigarette smoking. Replication was performed in a subset of 231 individuals from the ECLIPSE (Evaluation of COPD Longitudinally to Identify Predictive Surrogate Endpoints) study.Measurements and Main Results: We identified seven CpG sites associated with mortality (false discovery rate < 20%) that replicated in the ECLIPSE cohort (P < 0.05). None of these marks were associated with longitudinal lung function decline in survivors, smoking history, or current smoking status. However, differential methylation of two replicated PIK3CD (phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase catalytic subunit delta) sites were associated with lung function at enrollment (P < 0.05). We also observed associations between DNA methylation and gene expression for the PIK3CD sites.Conclusions: This study is the first to identify variable DNA methylation associated with all-cause mortality in smokers with and without COPD. Evaluating predictive epigenomic marks of smokers in peripheral blood may allow for targeted risk stratification and aid in delivery of future tailored therapeutic interventions.

Keywords: DNA methylation; all-cause mortality; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; epigenetics; survival analysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / genetics*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / mortality*
  • Smoking / genetics*
  • Smoking / mortality*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor