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DMRscaler: a scale-aware method to identify regions of differential DNA methylation spanning basepair to multi-megabase features



Pathogenic mutations in genes that control chromatin function have been implicated in rare genetic syndromes. These chromatin modifiers exhibit extraordinary diversity in the scale of the epigenetic changes they affect, from single basepair modifications by DNMT1 to whole genome structural changes by PRM1/2. Patterns of DNA methylation are related to a diverse set of epigenetic features across this full range of epigenetic scale, making DNA methylation valuable for mapping regions of general epigenetic dysregulation. However, existing methods are unable to accurately identify regions of differential methylation across this full range of epigenetic scale directly from DNA methylation data.


To address this, we developed DMRscaler, a novel method that uses an iterative windowing procedure to capture regions of differential DNA methylation (DMRs) ranging in size from single basepairs to whole chromosomes. We benchmarked DMRscaler against several DMR callers in simulated and natural data comparing XX and XY peripheral blood samples. DMRscaler was the only method that accurately called DMRs ranging in size from 100 bp to 1 Mb (pearson's r = 0.94) and up to 152 Mb on the X-chromosome. We then analyzed methylation data from rare-disease cohorts that harbor chromatin modifier gene mutations in NSD1, EZH2, and KAT6A where DMRscaler identified novel DMRs spanning gene clusters involved in development.


Taken together, our results show DMRscaler is uniquely able to capture the size of DMR features across the full range of epigenetic scale and identify novel, co-regulated regions that drive epigenetic dysregulation in human disease.

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