Exposure to arsenic at different life-stages and DNA methylation meta-analysis in buccal cells and leukocytes

Anne K. Bozack*, Philippe Boileau, Linqing Wei, Alan E. Hubbard, Fenna C.M. Sillé, Catterina Ferreccio, Johanna Acevedo, Lifang Hou, Vesna Ilievski, Craig M. Steinmaus, Martyn T. Smith, Ana Navas-Acien, Mary V. Gamble, Andres Cardenas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Arsenic (As) exposure through drinking water is a global public health concern. Epigenetic dysregulation including changes in DNA methylation (DNAm), may be involved in arsenic toxicity. Epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) of arsenic exposure have been restricted to single populations and comparison across EWAS has been limited by methodological differences. Leveraging data from epidemiological studies conducted in Chile and Bangladesh, we use a harmonized data processing and analysis pipeline and meta-analysis to combine results from four EWAS. Methods: DNAm was measured among adults in Chile with and without prenatal and early-life As exposure in PBMCs and buccal cells (N = 40, 850K array) and among men in Bangladesh with high and low As exposure in PBMCs (N = 32, 850K array; N = 48, 450K array). Linear models were used to identify differentially methylated positions (DMPs) and differentially variable positions (DVPs) adjusting for age, smoking, cell type, and sex in the Chile cohort. Probes common across EWAS were meta-analyzed using METAL, and differentially methylated and variable regions (DMRs and DVRs, respectively) were identified using comb-p. KEGG pathway analysis was used to understand biological functions of DMPs and DVPs. Results: In a meta-analysis restricted to PBMCs, we identified one DMP and 23 DVPs associated with arsenic exposure; including buccal cells, we identified 3 DMPs and 19 DVPs (FDR < 0.05). Using meta-analyzed results, we identified 11 DMRs and 11 DVRs in PBMC samples, and 16 DMRs and 19 DVRs in PBMC and buccal cell samples. One region annotated to LRRC27 was identified as a DMR and DVR. Arsenic-associated KEGG pathways included lysosome, autophagy, and mTOR signaling, AMPK signaling, and one carbon pool by folate. Conclusions: Using a two-step process of (1) harmonized data processing and analysis and (2) meta-analysis, we leverage four DNAm datasets from two continents of individuals exposed to high levels of As prenatally and during adulthood to identify DMPs and DVPs associated with arsenic exposure. Our approach suggests that standardizing analytical pipelines can aid in identifying biological meaningful signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number79
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Arsenic
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Prenatal exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Exposure to arsenic at different life-stages and DNA methylation meta-analysis in buccal cells and leukocytes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this