Epigenome-wide association study of physical activity and physiological parameters in discordant monozygotic twins

Duncan GE, Avery A, Thorson JLM, Nilsson EE, Beck D, Skinner MK.

An epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) was performed on buccal cells from monozygotic-twins (MZ) reared together as children, but who live apart as adults. Cohorts of twin pairs were used to investigate associations between neighborhood walkability and objectively measured physical activity (PA) levels. Due to dramatic cellular epigenetic sex differences, male and female MZ twin pairs were analyzed separately to identify differential DNA methylation regions (DMRs). A priori comparisons were made on MZ twin pairs discordant on body mass index (BMI), PA levels, and neighborhood walkability. In addition to direct comparative analysis to identify specific DMRs, a weighted genome coexpression network analysis (WGCNA) was performed to identify DNA methylation sites associated with the physiological traits of interest. The pairs discordant in PA levels had epigenetic alterations that correlated with reduced metabolic parameters (i.e., BMI and waist circumference). The DNA methylation sites are associated with over fifty genes previously found to be specific to vigorous PA, metabolic risk factors, and sex. Combined observations demonstrate that behavioral factors, such as physical activity, appear to promote systemic epigenetic alterations that impact metabolic risk factors. The epigenetic DNA methylation sites and associated genes identified provide insight into PA impacts on metabolic parameters and the etiology of obesity.

Duncan GE, Avery A, Thorson JLM, Nilsson EE, Beck D, Skinner MK. Epigenome-wide association study of physical activity and physiological parameters in discordant monozygotic twins. Sci Rep. 2022 Nov 23;12(1):20166. PMC9691628.