Research highlight

Disease: Clues to diabetes risk in the epigenome


December 22, 2016

Changes in patterns of DNA methylation - a mechanism through which cells can control gene expression - can be used to identify people who are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, reports a paper published in Nature this week. The results of the study could aid the development of new strategies for the prediction and prevention of this disease.

Recent studies have examined the role of epigenetic marks, particularly DNA methylation, in characterizing genomic differences between individuals with the disease and controls. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and previous studies have found altered patterns of DNA methylation in obese individuals. John Chambers and colleagues report an epigenome-wide association study for body mass index, identifying widespread changes in DNA methylation that are associated with body mass index. In prospective studies, the presence of these methylation markers strongly predicted who was likely to develop type 2 diabetes, independently of conventional risk factors such as waist-hip ratio and body mass index.

The authors also show that these altered methylation patterns are a consequence rather than a cause of obesity and some are found in genomic regions that have been implicated in lipid metabolism and inflammation, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

doi: 10.1038/nature20784

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