Anxiety is associated with higher levels of global DNA methylation and altered expression of epigenetic and interleukin-6 genes

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Abstract

Objectives

Anxiety is associated with elevated levels of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) and an increased risk for diseases with an inflammatory aetiology. In cancer, higher levels of IL-6 have been associated with increased expression of the epigenetic enzymes DNMT1 and Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 (EZH2). However, the relationship between IL-6 and DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) and EZH2 expression has not previously been examined in anxious individuals.

Methods

Global DNA methylation levels were measured using the Methylflash Methylated DNA Quantification Kit and gene expression levels of the DNMT and EZH2 genes in anxious (n=25) and nonanxious individuals (n=22) were compared using quantitative real-time PCR. Specifically, we investigated whether global DNA methylation or aberrant expression of these genes was correlated with IL-6 mRNA and protein serum levels in anxious individuals.

Results

Anxious participants had significantly higher levels of global DNA methylation compared with controls (P=0.001). There were no differences in the mean mRNA expression levels of the DNMT1/3A/3B, EZH2 and IL-6 genes in anxious individuals compared with controls. However, the expression of DNMT1/3A, EZH2 and IL-6 genes increases with increasing Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale-Anxiety scores in the anxious cohort only. Interestingly, IL-6 gene expression was correlated strongly with DNMT1/3A/3B and EZH2 expression, highlighting a potential relationship between IL-6 and important epigenetic regulatory enzymes.

Conclusion

This study provides novel insight into the relationship between anxiety, epigenetics and IL-6. Moreover, our findings support the hypothesis that changes in DNA methylation profiles may contribute to the biology of anxiety.

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