BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system caused by genetic and environmental factors. DNA methylation, an epigenetic mechanism that controls genome activity, may provide a link between genetic and environmental risk factors.
OBJECTIVE: We sought to identify DNA methylation changes in CD4+ T cells in patients with relapsing-remitting (RR-MS) and secondary-progressive (SP-MS) disease and healthy controls (HC).
METHODS: We performed DNA methylation analysis in CD4+ T cells from RR-MS, SP-MS, and HC and associated identified changes with the nearby risk allele, smoking, age, and gene expression.
RESULTS: We observed significant methylation differences in the VMP1/MIR21 locus, with RR-MS displaying higher methylation compared to SP-MS and HC. VMP1/MIR21 methylation did not correlate with a known MS risk variant in VMP1 or smoking but displayed a significant negative correlation with age and the levels of mature miR-21 in CD4+ T cells. Accordingly, RR-MS displayed lower levels of miR-21 compared to SP-MS, which might reflect differences in age between the groups, and healthy individuals and a significant enrichment of up-regulated miR-21 target genes.
CONCLUSION: Disease-related changes in epigenetic marking of MIR21 in RR-MS lead to differences in miR-21 expression with a consequence on miR-21 target genes.
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