A functional genomics pipeline to identify high-value asthma and allergy CpGs in the human methylome

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2023 Jun;151(6):1609-1621. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2022.12.828. Epub 2023 Feb 6.


Background: DNA methylation of cytosines at cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) dinucleotides (CpGs) is a widespread epigenetic mark, but genome-wide variation has been relatively unexplored due to the limited representation of variable CpGs on commercial high-throughput arrays.

Objectives: To explore this hidden portion of the epigenome, this study combined whole-genome bisulfite sequencing with in silico evidence of gene regulatory regions to design a custom array of high-value CpGs. This study focused on airway epithelial cells from children with and without allergic asthma because these cells mediate the effects of inhaled microbes, pollution, and allergens on asthma and allergic disease risk.

Methods: This study identified differentially methylated regions from whole-genome bisulfite sequencing in nasal epithelial cell DNA from a total of 39 children with and without allergic asthma of both European and African ancestries. This study selected CpGs from differentially methylated regions, previous allergy or asthma epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS), or genome-wide association study loci, and overlapped them with functional annotations for inclusion on a custom Asthma&Allergy array. This study used both the custom and EPIC arrays to perform EWAS of allergic sensitization (AS) in nasal epithelial cell DNA from children in the URECA (Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma) birth cohort and using the custom array in the INSPIRE [Infant Susceptibility to Pulmonary Infections and Asthma Following RSV Exposure] birth cohort. Each CpG on the arrays was assigned to its nearest gene and its promotor capture Hi-C interacting gene and performed expression quantitative trait methylation (eQTM) studies for both sets of genes.

Results: Custom array CpGs were enriched for intermediate methylation levels compared to EPIC CpGs. Intermediate methylation CpGs were further enriched among those associated with AS and for eQTMs on both arrays.

Conclusions: This study revealed signature features of high-value CpGs and evidence for epigenetic regulation of genes at AS EWAS loci that are robust to race/ethnicity, ascertainment, age, and geography.

Keywords: DNA methylation array; EWAS; airway epithelial cells; gene expression.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Asthma* / genetics
  • Child
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Epigenome
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity* / genetics


  • hydrogen sulfite
  • DNA