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Smoking induces differential epigenetic changes in DNA
It is now well-accepted that cigarette smoking is associated with risk of developing different cancers as well as other diseases including diabetes. Reduced fertility has also been linked to smoking. Greater understanding of one of the possible mechanisms behind this association has been revealed in a study published this month in the journal Human Molecular Genetics. The study from Uppsala University in Sweden involved a genome-wide DNA methylation study in order to compare the epigenetic changes in DNA caused by smoking compared to consumption of snuff (smokeless tobacco). The study interestingly found that smoking induced methylation changes that were not observed as a result of smokeless tobacco, suggesting that the changes are due to products related to burning of tobacco rather than the basic components of the tobacco itself.

Specifically, the study found that there were 95 sites that were differentially methylated in smokers and that a subset of differentially methylated loci was additionally differentially expressed. By contrast, in the smokeless tobacco group, no sites encoding biological functions or molecular processes were differentially methylated. Among the loci that were differentially methylated in the smokers were CPOX, CDKN1A, and PTK2, which are involved in response to arsenic-containing substances. This is consistent with cigarette smoke containing arsenic. In addition, there were loci associated with disease conditions that were observed to be differentially methylated in smokers. These included the diabetes-associated “insulin receptor binding”, and “negative regulation of glucose import”, the immune response-associated interleukin-6-mediated signaling pathway”, “regulation of T-helper 2 cell differentiation”, and “positive regulation of interleukin-13 production” and the male fertility-associated “sertoli cell fate commitment”. Since repressed immune response, reduced fertility and diabetes have all been associated with cigarette smoking, this study suggests that epigenetic changes mediated by chemicals in burnt tobacco may contribute to these problems. This kind of information may help inform development of more targeted drug therapies.


BESINGI, W. and JOHANSSON, Å., 2013. Smoke related DNA methylation changes in the etiology of human disease. Human Molecular Genetics, 2013

Uppsala Universitet. "Smoking changes our genes." ScienceDaily, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.
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