Nasal DNA methylation differentiates severe from non-severe asthma in African-American children

Allergy. 2021 Jun;76(6):1836-1845. doi: 10.1111/all.14655. Epub 2020 Nov 25.


Background: Asthma is highly heterogeneous, and severity evaluation is key to asthma management. DNA methylation (DNAm) contributes to asthma pathogenesis. This study aimed to identify nasal epithelial DNAm differences between severe and nonsevere asthmatic children and evaluate the impact of environmental exposures.

Methods: Thirty-three nonsevere and 22 severe asthmatic African American children were included in an epigenome-wide association study. Genome-wide nasal epithelial DNAm and gene expression were measured. CpG sites associated with asthma severity and environmental exposures and predictive of severe asthma were identified. DNAm was correlated with gene expression. Enrichment for transcription factor (TF) binding sites or histone modifications surrounding DNAm differences were determined.

Results: We identified 816 differentially methylated CpG positions (DMPs) and 10 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) associated with asthma severity. Three DMPs exhibited discriminatory ability for severe asthma. Intriguingly, six DMPs were simultaneously associated with asthma, allergic asthma, total IgE, environmental IgE, and FeNO in an independent cohort of children. Twenty-seven DMPs were associated with traffic-related air pollution or secondhand smoke. DNAm at 22 DMPs was altered by diesel particles or allergen in human bronchial epithelial cells. DNAm levels at 39 DMPs were correlated with mRNA expression. Proximal to 816 DMPs, three histone marks and several TFs involved in asthma pathogenesis were enriched.

Conclusions: Significant differences in nasal epithelial DNAm were observed between nonsevere and severe asthma in African American children, a subset of which may be useful to predict disease severity. These CpG sites are subjected to the influences of environmental exposures and may regulate gene expression.

Keywords: DNA methylation; asthma severity; environmental exposures; epigenetics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / genetics
  • Asthma* / diagnosis
  • Asthma* / genetics
  • Asthma* / metabolism
  • Child
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Nasal Mucosa / metabolism