A Mediation Approach to Discovering Causal Relationships between the Metabolome and DNA Methylation in Type 1 Diabetes

Metabolites. 2021 Aug 14;11(8):542. doi: 10.3390/metabo11080542.


Environmental factors including viruses, diet, and the metabolome have been linked with the appearance of islet autoimmunity (IA) that precedes development of type 1 diabetes (T1D). We measured global DNA methylation (DNAm) and untargeted metabolomics prior to IA and at the time of seroconversion to IA in 92 IA cases and 91 controls from the Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young (DAISY). Causal mediation models were used to identify seven DNAm probe-metabolite pairs in which the metabolite measured at IA mediated the protective effect of the DNAm probe measured prior to IA against IA risk. These pairs included five DNAm probes mediated by histidine (a metabolite known to affect T1D risk), one probe (cg01604946) mediated by phostidyl choline p-32:0 or o-32:1, and one probe (cg00390143) mediated by sphingomyelin d34:2. The top 100 DNAm probes were over-represented in six reactome pathways at the FDR <0.1 level (q = 0.071), including transport of small molecules and inositol phosphate metabolism. While the causal pathways in our mediation models require further investigation to better understand the biological mechanisms, we identified seven methylation sites that may improve our understanding of epigenetic protection against T1D as mediated by the metabolome.

Keywords: DNA methylation; metabolomics; type 1 diabetes.