Quality control and statistical modeling for environmental epigenetics: a study on in utero lead exposure and DNA methylation at birth.
Goodrich JM, Sanchez BN, Dolinoy DC, Zhang Z, Hernandez-Avila M, Hu H, Peterson KE, Tellez-Rojo MM. Quality control and statistical modeling for environmental epigenetics: a study on in utero lead exposure and DNA methylation at birth. Epigenetics 2015;10(1):19-30.
DNA methylation data assayed using pyrosequencing techniques are increasingly being used in human cohort studies to investigate associations between epigenetic modifications at candidate genes and exposures to environmental toxicants and to examine environmentally-induced epigenetic alterations as a mechanism underlying observed toxicant-health outcome associations. For instance, in utero
lead (Pb) exposure is a neurodevelopmental toxicant of global concern that has also been linked to altered growth in human epidemiological cohorts; a potential mechanism of this association is through alteration of DNA methylation (e.g., at growth-related genes). However, because the associations between toxicants and DNA methylation might be weak, using appropriate quality control and statistical methods is important to increase reliability and power of such studies. Using a simulation study, we compared potential approaches to estimate toxicant-DNA methylation associations that varied by how methylation data were analyzed (repeated measures vs. averaging all CpG sites) and by method to adjust for batch effects (batch controls vs. random effects). We demonstrate that correcting for batch effects using plate controls yields unbiased associations, and that explicitly modeling the CpG site-specific variances and correlations among CpG sites increases statistical power. Using the recommended approaches, we examined the association between DNA methylation (in LINE-1 and growth related genes IGF2
) and 3 biomarkers of Pb exposure (Pb concentrations in umbilical cord blood, maternal tibia, and maternal patella), among mother-infant pairs of the Early Life Exposures in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants (ELEMENT) cohort (n = 247). Those with 10 μg/g higher patella Pb had, on average, 0.61% higher IGF2
= 0.05). Sex-specific trends between Pb and DNA methylation (P
< 0.1) were observed among girls including a 0.23% increase in HSD11B2
methylation with 10 μg/g higher patella Pb.