Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a heterogeneous disease with well-known genetic and environmental risk factors contributing to its prevalence. Epigenetic mechanisms related to changes in DNA methylation (DNAm), may also contribute to T2D risk, but larger studies are required to discover novel markers, and to confirm existing ones.
We performed a large meta-analysis of individual epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) of prevalent T2D conducted in four European studies using peripheral blood DNAm. Analysis of differentially methylated regions (DMR) was also undertaken, based on the meta-analysis results. We found three novel CpGs associated with prevalent T2D in Europeans at cg00144180 (HDAC4), cg16765088 (near SYNM) and cg24704287 (near MIR23A) and confirmed three CpGs previously identified (mapping to TXNIP, ABCG1 and CPT1A). We also identified 77 T2D associated DMRs, most of them hypomethylated in T2D cases versus controls. In adjusted regressions among diabetic-free participants in ALSPAC, we found that all six CpGs identified in the meta-EWAS were associated with white cell-types. We estimated that these six CpGs captured 11% of the variation in T2D, which was similar to the variation explained by the model including only the common risk factors of BMI, sex, age and smoking (R = 10.6%).
This study identifies novel loci associated with T2D in Europeans. We also demonstrate associations of the same loci with other traits. Future studies should investigate if our findings are generalizable in non-European populations, and potential roles of these epigenetic markers in T2D etiology or in determining long term consequences of T2D.