Obesity and its underlying insulin resistance are caused by environmental and genetic factors. DNA methylation provides a mechanism by which environmental factors can regulate transcriptional activity. The overall goal of the work herein was to (1) identify alterations in DNA methylation in human skeletal muscle with obesity and its underlying insulin resistance, (2) to determine if these changes in methylation can be altered through weight-loss induced by bariatric surgery, and (3) to identify DNA methylation biomarkers in whole blood that can be used as a surrogate for skeletal muscle.
Assessment of DNA methylation was performed on human skeletal muscle and blood using reduced representation bisulfite sequencing (RRBS) for high-throughput identification and pyrosequencing for site-specific confirmation. Sorbin and SH3 homology domain 3 (SORBS3) was identified in skeletal muscle to be increased in methylation (+5.0 to +24.4 %) in the promoter and 5’untranslated region (UTR) in the obese participants (n= 10) compared to lean (n=12), and this finding corresponded with a decrease in gene expression (fold change: -1.9, P=0.0001). Furthermore, SORBS3 was demonstrated in a separate cohort of morbidly obese participants (n=7) undergoing weight-loss induced by surgery, to decrease in methylation (-5.6 to -24.2%) and increase in gene expression (fold change: +1.7; P=0.05) post-surgery. Moreover, SORBS3 promoter methylation was demonstrated in vitro to inhibit transcriptional activity (P=0.000003). The methylation and transcriptional changes for SORBS3 were significantly (P≤0.05) correlated with obesity measures and fasting insulin levels. SORBS3 was not identified in the blood methylation analysis of lean (n=10) and obese (n=10) participants suggesting that it is a muscle specific marker. However, solute carrier family 19 member 1 (SLC19A1) was identified in blood and skeletal muscle to have decreased 5’UTR methylation in obese participants, and this was significantly (P≤0.05) predicted by insulin sensitivity.
These findings suggest SLC19A1 as a potential blood-based biomarker for obese, insulin resistant states. The collective findings of SORBS3 DNA methylation and gene expression present an exciting novel target in skeletal muscle for further understanding obesity and its underlying insulin resistance. Moreover, the dynamic changes to SORBS3 in response to metabolic improvements and weight-loss induced by surgery.
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