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A blood DNA methylation biomarker for predicting short-term risk of cardiovascular events


  • Andrea Cappozzo, Cathal McCrory, Oliver Robinson, Anna Freni Sterrantino, Carlotta Sacerdote, Vittorio Krogh, Salvatore Panico, Rosario Tumino, Licia Iacoviello, Fulvio Ricceri, Sabina Sieri, Paolo Chiodini, Gareth J. McKay, Amy Jayne McKnight, Frank Kee, Ian S. Young, Bernadette McGuinness, Eileen M. Crimmins, Thalida Em Arpawong, Rose Anne Kenny, Aisling O’Halloran, Silvia Polidoro, Giuliana Solinas, Paolo Vineis, Francesca Ieva & Giovanni Fiorito



Recent evidence highlights the epidemiological value of blood DNA methylation (DNAm) as surrogate biomarker for exposure to risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCD). DNAm surrogate of exposures predicts diseases and longevity better than self-reported or measured exposures in many cases. Consequently, disease prediction models based on blood DNAm surrogates may outperform current state-of-the-art prediction models. This study aims to develop novel DNAm surrogates for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) risk factors and develop a composite biomarker predictive of CVD risk. We compared the prediction performance of our newly developed risk score with the state-of-the-art DNAm risk scores for cardiovascular diseases, the ‘next-generation’ epigenetic clock DNAmGrimAge, and the prediction model based on traditional risk factors SCORE2.


Using data from the EPIC Italy cohort, we derived novel DNAm surrogates for BMI, blood pressure, fasting glucose and insulin, cholesterol, triglycerides, and coagulation biomarkers. We validated them in four independent data sets from Europe and the USA. Further, we derived a DNAmCVDscore predictive of the time-to-CVD event as a combination of several DNAm surrogates. ROC curve analyses show that DNAmCVDscore outperforms previously developed DNAm scores for CVD risk and SCORE2 for short-term CVD risk. Interestingly, the performance of DNAmGrimAge and DNAmCVDscore was comparable (slightly lower for DNAmGrimAge, although the differences were not statistically significant).


We described novel DNAm surrogates for CVD risk factors useful for future molecular epidemiology research, and we described a blood DNAm-based composite biomarker, DNAmCVDscore, predictive of short-term cardiovascular events. Our results highlight the usefulness of DNAm surrogate biomarkers of risk factors in epigenetic epidemiology to identify high-risk populations. In addition, we provide further evidence on the effectiveness of prediction models based on DNAm surrogates and discuss methodological aspects for further improvements. Finally, our results encourage testing this approach for other NCD diseases by training and developing DNAm surrogates for disease-specific risk factors and exposures.

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