Background: Observational studies have suggested that the risks of non-communicable diseases in voluntary migrants become similar to those in the host population after one or more generations, supporting the hypothesis that these diseases have a predominantly environmental (rather than inherited) origin. However, no study has been conducted thus far to identify alterations at the molecular level that might mediate these changes in disease risk after migration. Methods: Using genome-wide DNA methylation profiles from more than 1000 Italian participants, we conducted an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) to identify differences between south-to-north migrants and their origin (southern natives) and host (north-western natives) populations. Results: We identified several differentially methylated CpG loci, in particular when comparing south-to-north migrants with north-western natives. We hypothesise that these alterations may underlie an adaptive response to exposure differentials that exist between origin and host populations. Conclusions: Our study is the first large agnostic investigation of DNA methylation changes linked to migratory processes, and shows the potential of EWAS to investigate their biological effects.
- Developmental origins of disease
- DNA methylation
ASJC Scopus subject areas