DNA Methylation Dynamics in Human Carotid Plaques After Cerebrovascular Events
Objective—To understand whether cerebrovascular events, a major complication of atherosclerosis, are associated with any specific DNA methylation changes in the carotid plaque.
Approach and Results—We profiled the DNA methylomes of human symptomatic carotid plaques obtained from patients who had cerebrovascular events (n=19) and asymptomatic counterparts (n=19) with a high-density microarray (≈485 000 CpG sites, Illumina), and crossed DNA methylation data with RNAseq-based expression data from an independent symptomatic carotid plaque set (n=8). Few (30) CpGs showed a significant (P<0.05; absolute δ–β, >0.20) differential methylation between the 2 groups. Within symptomatic carotid plaques, DNA methylation correlated significantly with postcerebrovascular event time (range, 3–45 days; r-value range, −0.926 to 0.857; P<0.05) for ≈45 000 CpGs, the vast majority of which became hypomethylated with increasing postcerebrovascular event time. Hypomethylation was not because of erasure of the gene-body and CG-poor region hypermethylation that accompany the progression of stable lesions, but rather targeted promoters and CpG islands. Noticeably, promoter hypomethylation and increased expression of genes involved in the inhibition of the inflammatory response, defense against oxidative stress, and active DNA demethylation were observed with increasing postcerebrovascular event time. Concomitantly, histological changes consistent with phagocyte-driven plaque healing were observed.
Conclusions—Weak changes in the DNA methylome distinguish symptomatic from asymptomatic plaques, but a widespread demethylation resulting in permissive transcriptional marks at atheroprotective gene promoters is established in plaques after a cerebrovascular event, thus mirroring previous observations that ruptured plaques tend to revert to a stable structure. The identified loci are candidate targets to accelerate the pace of carotid plaque stabilization.
- Received March 13, 2015.
- Accepted June 6, 2015.
- © 2015 American Heart Association, Inc.