BackgroundPesticide exposure is associated with many long-term health outcomes; the potential underlying mechanisms are not well established for most associations. Epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation, may contribute. Individual pesticides may be associated with specific DNA methylation patterns but no epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) has evaluated methylation in relation to individual pesticides.
ObjectivesWe conducted an EWAS of DNA methylation in relation to several pesticide active ingredients.
MethodsThe Agricultural Lung Health Study is a case-control study of asthma, nested within the Agricultural Health Study. We analyzed blood DNA methylation measured using Illumina's EPIC array in 1,170 male farmers of European ancestry. For pesticides still on the market at blood collection (2009-2013), we evaluated nine active ingredients for which at least 30 participants reported past and current (within the last 12 months) use, as well as seven banned organochlorines with at least 30 participants reporting past use. We used robust linear regression to compare methylation at individual C-phosphate-G sites (CpGs) among users of a specific pesticide to never users.
ResultsUsing family-wise error rate (p<9×10-8) or false-discovery rate (FDR<0.05), we identified 162 differentially methylated CpGs across 8 of 9 currently marketed active ingredients (acetochlor, atrazine, dicamba, glyphosate, malathion, metolachlor, mesotrione, and picloram) and one banned organochlorine (heptachlor). Differentially methylated CpGs were unique to each active ingredient, and a dose-response relationship with lifetime days of use was observed for most. Significant CpGs were enriched for transcription motifs and 28% of CpGs were associated with whole blood cis-gene expression, supporting functional effects of findings. We corroborated a previously reported association between dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (banned in the United States in 1972) and epigenetic age acceleration.
DiscussionWe identified differential methylation for several active ingredients in male farmers of European ancestry. These may serve as biomarkers of chronic exposure and could inform mechanisms of long-term health outcomes from pesticide exposure. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP8928.