Alterations in DNA methylation corresponding with lung inflammation and as a biomarker for disease development after MWCNT exposure

Traci A. Brown, Joong Won Lee, Andrij Holian, Virginia Porter, Harley Fredriksen, Minju Kim, Yoon Hee Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Use of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) is growing which increases occupational exposures to these materials. Their toxic potential makes it important to have an in-depth understanding of the inflammation and disease that develops due to exposure. Epigenetics is one area of interest that has been quickly developing to assess disease processes due to its ability to change gene expression and thus the lung environment after exposure. In this study, promoter methylation of inflammatory genes (IFN-γ and TNF-α) was measured after MWCNT exposure using the pyrosequencing assay and found to correlate with initial cytokine production. In addition, methylation of a gene involved in tissue fibrosis (Thy-1) was also altered in a way that matched collagen deposition. In addition to using epigenetics to better understand disease processes, it has also been used as a biomarker of exposure and disease. In this study, global methylation was determined in the lung to ascertain whether MWCNT alter global methylation at the site of exposure and if those alterations coincide with disease development. Then, global methylation levels were determined in the blood to ascertain whether global methylation could be used as a biomarker of exposure in a more easily accessible tissue. Using the LuUminometric Methylation Assay (LUMA) and 5-Methylcytosine (5-mC) Quantification assay, we found that MWCNT lead to DNA hypomethylation in the lung and blood, which coincided with disease development. This study provides initial data showing that alterations in gene-specific methylation correspond with an inflammatory response to MWCNT exposure. In addition, global DNA methylation in the lung and blood coincides with MWCNT-induced disease development, suggesting its potential as a biomarker of both exposure and disease development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-461
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 20 2016


  • 5-mC
  • IFN-γ
  • LUMA
  • TNF-α
  • Thy-1
  • inflammation
  • methylation


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