Longitudinal data in peripheral blood confirm that PM20D1 is a quantitative trait locus (QTL) for Alzheimer’s disease and implicate its dynamic role in disease progression

Qi Wang, Yinghua Chen, Benjamin Readhead, Kewei Chen, Yi Su, Eric M. Reiman, Joel T. Dudley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: While Alzheimer’s disease (AD) remains one of the most challenging diseases to tackle, genome-wide genetic/epigenetic studies reveal many disease-associated risk loci, which sheds new light onto disease heritability, provides novel insights to understand its underlying mechanism and potentially offers easily measurable biomarkers for early diagnosis and intervention. Methods: We analyzed whole-genome DNA methylation data collected from peripheral blood in a cohort (n = 649) from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and compared the DNA methylation level at baseline among participants diagnosed with AD (n = 87), mild cognitive impairment (MCI, n = 175) and normal controls (n = 162), to identify differentially methylated regions (DMRs). We also leveraged up to 4 years of longitudinal DNA methylation data, sampled at approximately 1 year intervals to model alterations in methylation levels at DMRs to delineate methylation changes associated with aging and disease progression, by linear mixed-effects (LME) modeling for the unchanged diagnosis groups (AD, MCI and control, respectively) and U-shape testing for those with changed diagnosis (converters). Results: When compared with controls, patients with MCI consistently displayed promoter hypomethylation at methylation QTL (mQTL) gene locus PM20D1. This promoter hypomethylation was even more prominent in patients with mild to moderate AD. This is in stark contrast with previously reported hypermethylation in hippocampal and frontal cortex brain tissues in patients with advanced-stage AD at this locus. From longitudinal data, we show that initial promoter hypomethylation of PM20D1 during MCI and early stage AD is reversed to eventual promoter hypermethylation in late stage AD, which helps to complete a fuller picture of methylation dynamics. We also confirm this observation in an independent cohort from the Religious Orders Study and Memory and Aging Project (ROSMAP) Study using DNA methylation and gene expression data from brain tissues as neuropathological staging (Braak score) advances. Conclusions: Our results confirm that PM20D1 is an mQTL in AD and demonstrate that it plays a dynamic role at different stages of the disease. Further in-depth study is thus warranted to fully decipher its role in the evolution of AD and potentially explore its utility as a blood-based biomarker for AD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number189
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Epigenetics
  • Mixed-effects model
  • PM20D1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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