Epigenome-wide association analyses of active injection drug use

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022 Jun 1:235:109431. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109431. Epub 2022 Mar 29.


Background: Injection drug use (IDU) is prevalent in the US and is associated with substantial risk of blood-borne infections, morbidity, and mortality. However, the spectrum of its biologic effects on DNA methylation in blood is not well characterized.

Methods: 401 participants (Mage = 47.9; 68% male; 90% African American) over several timepoints (1054 visits) were drawn from a longitudinal cohort of people who inject drugs. DNA methylation was measured among buffy coat samples from the 1054 visits. Compared to samples collected after ≥ 6 months of abstinence, separate EWAS were conducted for active injecting of any drug, quantitative injection frequency, injecting of heroin and injecting of cocaine. Linear mixed effect models were used and analyses were adjusted for repeated measurements and key technical, biological, and sociodemographic characteristics.

Results: We found epigenome-wide significant CpG sites associated with active injection (cg10636246, AIM2, p = 2.33 × 10-8) and injection intensity (cg13117953, p = 4.30 × 10-8). We found converging evidence that cg10636246 (AIM2), cg23110600 (PRKCH), cg03546163 (FKBP5), cg04590956 (GMCL1), and cg16317961 (MAPRE2) were among the top 0.1% significantly differentially methylated CpG sites shared across the five EWAS. Top ranked CpGs among the five EWAS were enriched (p < 0.0001) in AIM2 inflammasome complex, T cell migration, insulin regulation and epinephrine synthesis pathways. During periods of active injection, samples had 0.46 years of epigenetic age acceleration relative to the abstinence period, within the same subject (p = 0.03).

Conclusions: Findings from this study demonstrate modest, common, and specific effects on DNA methylation during a relatively short time between periods of active drug injection and abstinence.

Keywords: Cocaine; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Heroin; Injection drug use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • CpG Islands / genetics
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Epigenome*
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / genetics