Life-course socioeconomic status and DNA methylation of genes regulating inflammation

Silvia Stringhini, Silvia Polidoro, Carlotta Sacerdote, Rachel S. Kelly, Karin Van Veldhoven, Claudia Agnoli, Sara Grioni, Rosario Tumino, Maria Concetta Giurdanella, Salvatore Panico, Amalia Mattiello, Domenico Palli, Giovanna Masala, Valentina Gallo, Raphaële Castagné, Fred Paccaud, Gianluca Campanella, Marc Chadeau-Hyam, Paolo Vineis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In humans, low socioeconomic status (SES) across the life course is associated with greater diurnal cortisol production, increased inflammatory activity and higher circulating antibodies for several pathogens, all suggesting a dampened immune response. Recent evidence suggests that DNA methylation of pro-inflammatory genes may be implicated in the biological embedding of the social environment. Methods: The present study examines the association between life-course SES and DNA methylation of candidate genes, selected on the basis of their involvement in SES-related inflammation, in the context of a genome-wide methylation study. Participants were 857 healthy individuals sampled from the EPIC Italy prospective cohort study. Results: Indicators of SES were associated with DNA methylation of genes involved in inflammation. NFATC1, in particular, was consistently found to be less methylated in individuals with low vs high SES, in a dose-dependent manner. IL1A, GPR132 and genes belonging to the MAPK family were also less methylated among individuals with low SES. In addition, associations were found between SES and CXCL2 and PTGS2, but these genes were consistently more methylated among low SES individuals. Conclusions: Our findings support the hypothesis that the social environment leaves an epigenetic signature in cells. Although the functional significance of SES-related DNA methylation is still unclear, we hypothesize that it may link SES to chronic disease risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1320-1330
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2015


  • DNA methylation
  • Inflammation
  • Life course
  • Socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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