Methylation biomarkers of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and association with breast cancer risk at the time of menopause

Environ Int. 2021 Nov:156:106772. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106772. Epub 2021 Jul 19.


Background: Exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) may influence risk of developing post-menopausal breast cancer. Although mechanisms are poorly understood, epigenetic regulation of gene expression may play a role.

Objectives: To identify DNA methylation (DNAm) changes associated with PBDE serum levels and test the association of these biomarkers with breast cancer risk.

Methods: We studied 397 healthy women (controls) and 133 women diagnosed with breast cancer (cases) between ages 40 and 58 years who participated in the California Teachers Study. PBDE levels were measured in blood. Infinium Human Methylation EPIC Bead Chips were used to measure DNAm. Using multivariable linear regression models, differentially methylated CpG sites (DMSs) and regions (DMRs) associated with serum PBDE levels were identified using controls. For top-ranked DMSs and DMRs, targeted next-generation bisulfite sequencing was used to measure DNAm for 133 invasive breast cancer cases and 301 age-matched controls. Conditional logistic regression was used to evaluate associations between DMSs and DMRs and breast cancer risk.

Results: We identified 15 DMSs and 10 DMRs statistically significantly associated with PBDE levels (FDR < 0.05). Methylation changes in a DMS at BMP8B and DMRs at TP53 and A2M-AS1 were statistically significantly (FDR < 0.05) associated with breast cancer risk.

Conclusion: We show for the first time that serum PBDE levels are associated with differential methylation and that PBDE-associated DNAm changes in blood are associated with breast cancer risk.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Breast cancer; DNA methylation; EWAS; PBDEs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers* / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Menopause
  • Middle Aged


  • Biomarkers
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers