Longitudinal study of leukocyte DNA methylation and biomarkers for cancer risk in older adults

Alexandra H. Bartlett, Jane W. Liang, Jose Vladimir Sandoval-Sierra, Jay H. Fowke, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Karen C. Johnson, Khyobeni Mozhui

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Changes in DNA methylation over the course of life may provide an indicator of risk for cancer. We explored longitudinal changes in CpG methylation from blood leukocytes, and likelihood of future cancer diagnosis. Methods: Peripheral blood samples were obtained at baseline and at follow-up visit from 20 participants in the Health, Aging and Body Composition prospective cohort study. Genome-wide CpG methylation was assayed using the Illumina Infinium Human MethylationEPIC (HM850K) microarray. Results: Global patterns in DNA methylation from CpG-based analyses showed extensive changes in cell composition over time in participants who developed cancer. By visit year 6, the proportion of CD8+ T-cells decreased (p-value = 0.02), while granulocytes cell levels increased (p-value = 0.04) among participants diagnosed with cancer compared to those who remained cancer-free (cancer-free vs. cancer-present: 0.03 ± 0.02 vs. 0.003 ± 0.005 for CD8+ T-cells; 0.52 ± 0.14 vs. 0.66 ± 0.09 for granulocytes). Epigenome-wide analysis identified three CpGs with suggestive p-values ≤10- 5 for differential methylation between cancer-free and cancer-present groups, including a CpG located in MTA3, a gene linked with metastasis. At a lenient statistical threshold (p-value ≤3 × 10- 5), the top 10 cancer-associated CpGs included a site near RPTOR that is involved in the mTOR pathway, and the candidate tumor suppressor genes REC8, KCNQ1, and ZSWIM5. However, only the CpG in RPTOR (cg08129331) was replicated in an independent data set. Analysis of within-individual change from baseline to Year 6 found significant correlations between the rates of change in methylation in RPTOR, REC8 and ZSWIM5, and time to cancer diagnosis. Conclusion: The results show that changes in cellular composition explains much of the cross-sectional and longitudinal variation in CpG methylation. Additionally, differential methylation and longitudinal dynamics at specific CpGs could provide powerful indicators of cancer development and/or progression. In particular, we highlight CpG methylation in the RPTOR gene as a potential biomarker of cancer that awaits further validation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10
JournalBiomarker Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 28 2019


  • Biomarker
  • Cancer
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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