Genetic effects on asthma of genes in the T-helper 2 (Th2) pathway may interact with epigenetic factors including DNA methylation. We hypothesized that interactions between genetic variants and methylation in genes in this pathway (IL4, IL4R, IL13, GATA3, and STAT6) influence asthma risk, that such influences are age-dependent, and that methylation of some CpG sites changes over time in accordance with asthma transition. We tested these hypotheses in subsamples of girls from a population-based birth cohort established on the Isle of Wight, UK, in 1989.
Logistic regression models were applied to test the interaction effect of DNA methylation and SNP on asthma within each of the five genes. Bootstrapping was used to assess the models identified. From 1,361 models fitted at each age of 10 and 18 years, 8 models, including 4 CpGs and 8 SNPs, showed potential associations with asthma risk. Of the 4 CpGs, methylation of cg26937798 (IL4R) and cg23943829 (IL4) changes between ages 10 and 18 (both higher at 10; P = 9.14 × 10−6 and 1.07 × 10−5, respectively).
At age 10, the odds of asthma tended to decrease as cg12405139 (GATA3) methylation increased (log-OR = −12.15; P = 0.049); this effect disappeared by age 18. At age 18, methylation of cg09791102 (IL4R) was associated with higher risk of asthma among subjects with genotype GG compared to AG (P = 0.003), increased cg26937798 methylation among subjects with rs3024685 (IL4R) genotype AA (P = 0.003) or rs8832 (IL4R) genotype GG (P = 0.01) was associated with a lower asthma risk; these CpGs had no effect at age 10. Increasing cg26937798 methylation over time possibly reduced the risk of positive asthma transition (asthma-free at age 10 → asthma at age 18; log-OR = −3.11; P = 0.069) and increased the likelihood of negative transition (asthma at age 10 → asthma-free at age 18; log-OR = 3.97; P = 0.074).
The interaction of DNA methylation and SNPs in Th2 pathway genes is likely to contribute to asthma risk. This effect may vary with age. Methylation of some CpGs changed over time, which may influence asthma transition.