Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol - (-) - [2022-03-14; online 2022-03-14]
DNA methylation patterns in chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) might offer new insights into disease pathogenesis. To assess methylation profiles in the main COPD target organ, we performed an epigenome-wide association study on bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) cells. Bronchoscopies were performed in 18 COPD subjects and 15 controls (ex- and current smokers). DNA methylation was measured with Illumina MethylationEPIC BeadChip covering >850,000 CpGs. Differentially methylated positions (DMPs) were examined for 1) enrichment in pathways and functional gene relationships using Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes and Gene Ontology; 2) accelerated aging using Horvath's epigenetic clock; 3) correlation with gene expression; and 4) co-localization with genetic variation. We found 1,155 Bonferroni significant (P < 6.74 × 10-8) DMPs associated with COPD, many with large effect sizes. Functional analysis identified biologically plausible pathways and gene relationships, including enrichment for transcription factor activity. Strong correlation was found between COPD and chronological age, but not with accelerated epigenetic aging. For 79 unique DMPs, DNA methylation correlated significantly with gene expression in BAL cells. Thirty-nine percent of DMPs were co-localized with COPD-associated SNPs. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first EWAS of COPD on BAL cells, and our analyses revealed many differential methylation sites. Integration with mRNA data showed a strong functional readout for relevant genes, identifying sites where DNA methylation might directly impact expression. Almost half of DMPs were co-located with SNPs identified in previous GWAS of COPD, suggesting joint genetic and epigenetic pathways related to disease. This article is open access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).