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Validation and characterization of a DNA methylation alcohol biomarker across the life course

By Paul Darius Yousefi, Rebecca C. Richmond, Ryan Langdon, Andrew Ness, Chunyu Liu, Daniel Levy, Caroline L. Relton, Matthew Suderman, Luisa Zuccolo

Posted 28 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/591404

Recently, an alcohol predictor was developed using DNA methylation at 144 CpG sites (DNAm-Alc) as a biomarker for improved clinical or epidemiologic assessment of alcohol-related ill health. We validate the performance and characterize the drivers of this DNAm-Alc for the first time in independent populations. In N=1,049 parents from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) Accessible Resource for Integrated Epigenomic Studies (ARIES) at midlife, we found DNAm-Alc explained 7.6% of the variation in alcohol intake, roughly half of what had been reported previously, and interestingly explained a larger 9.8% of AUDIT score, a scale of alcohol use disorder. Explanatory capacity in participants from the offspring generation of ARIES measured during adolescence was much lower. However, DNAm-Alc explained 14.3% of the variation in replication using the Head and Neck 5000 (HN5000) clinical cohort that had higher average alcohol consumption. To investigate whether this relationship was being driven by genetic and/or earlier environment confounding we examined how earlier vs. concurrent DNAm-Alc measures predicted AUDIT scores. In both ARIES parental and offspring generations, we observed associations between AUDIT and concurrent, but not earlier DNAm-Alc, suggesting independence from genetic and stable environmental contributions. The stronger relationship between DNAm-Alcs and AUDIT in parents at midlife compared to adolescents despite similar levels of consumption suggests that DNAm-Alc likely reflects long-term patterns of alcohol abuse. Such biomarkers may have potential applications for biomonitoring and risk prediction, especially in cases where reporting bias is a concern.

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