Epigenome-Wide Association Study in Peripheral Tissues Highlights DNA Methylation Profiles Associated with Episodic Memory Performance in Humans.


Yasmine Sommerer, Valerija Dobricic, Marcel Schilling, Olena Ohlei, David Bartrés-Faz, Gabriele Cattaneo, Ilja Demuth, Sandra Düzel, Sören Franzenburg, Janina Fuß, Ulman Lindenberger, Álvaro Pascual-Leone, Sanaz Sedghpour Sabet, Cristina Solé-Padullés, Josep M Tormos, Valentin Max Vetter, Tanja Wesse, Andre Franke, Christina M Lill, Lars Bertram

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The decline in episodic memory (EM) performance is a hallmark of cognitive aging and an early clinical sign in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In this study, we conducted an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) using DNA methylation (DNAm) profiles from buccal and blood samples for cross-sectional (n = 1019) and longitudinal changes in EM performance (n = 626; average follow-up time 5.4 years) collected under the auspices of the Lifebrain consortium project. The mean age of participants with cross-sectional data was 69 ± 11 years (30-90 years), with 50% being females. We identified 21 loci showing suggestive evidence of association (p < 1 × 10-5) with either or both EM phenotypes. Among these were SNCA, SEPW1 (both cross-sectional EM), ITPK1 (longitudinal EM), and APBA2 (both EM traits), which have been linked to AD or Parkinson’s disease (PD) in previous work. While the EM phenotypes were nominally significantly (p < 0.05) associated with poly-epigenetic scores (PESs) using EWASs on general cognitive function, none remained significant after correction for multiple testing. Likewise, estimating the degree of “epigenetic age acceleration” did not reveal significant associations with either of the two tested EM phenotypes. In summary, our study highlights several interesting candidate loci in which differential DNAm patterns in peripheral tissue are associated with EM performance in humans.