Alcohol use disorder is associated with DNA methylation-based shortening of telomere length and regulated by TESPA1: implications for aging

Jeesun Jung, Daniel L McCartney, Josephin Wagner, Daniel B Rosoff, Melanie Schwandt, Hui Sun, Corinde E Wiers, Luana Martins de Carvalho, Nora D Volkow, Rosie M Walker, Archie Campbell, David J Porteous, Andrew M McIntosh, Riccardo E Marioni, Steve Horvath, Kathryn L Evans, Falk W Lohoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Chronic heavy alcohol consumption is associated with increased mortality and morbidity and often leads to premature aging; however, the mechanisms of alcohol-associated cellular aging are not well understood. In this study, we used DNA methylation derived telomere length (DNAmTL) as a novel approach to investigate the role of alcohol use on the aging process. DNAmTL was estimated by 140 cytosine phosphate guanines (CpG) sites in 372 individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and 243 healthy controls (HC) and assessed using various endophenotypes and clinical biomarkers. Validation in an independent sample of DNAmTL on alcohol consumption was performed (N = 4219). Exploratory genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on DNAmTL were also performed to identify genetic variants contributing to DNAmTL shortening. Top GWAS findings were analyzed using in-silico expression quantitative trait loci analyses and related to structural MRI hippocampus volumes of individuals with AUD. DNAmTL was 0.11-kilobases shorter per year in AUD compared to HC after adjustment for age, sex, race, and blood cell composition (p = 4.0 × 10 -12). This association was partially attenuated but remained significant after additionally adjusting for BMI, and smoking status (0.06 kilobases shorter per year, p = 0.002). DNAmTL shortening was strongly associated with chronic heavy alcohol use (ps < 0.001), elevated gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) (ps < 0.004). Comparison of DNAmTL with PCR-based methods of assessing TL revealed positive correlations (R = 0.3, p = 2.2 × 10 -5), highlighting the accuracy of DNAmTL as a biomarker. The GWAS meta-analysis identified a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), rs4374022 and 18 imputed ones in Thymocyte Expressed, Positive Selection Associated 1(TESPA1), at the genome-wide level (p = 3.75 × 10 -8). The allele C of rs4374022 was associated with DNAmTL shortening, lower hippocampus volume (p < 0.01), and decreased mRNA expression in hippocampus tissue (p = 0.04). Our study demonstrates DNAmTL-related aging acceleration in AUD and suggests a functional role for TESPA1 in regulating DNAmTL length, possibly via the immune system with subsequent biological effects on brain regions negatively affected by alcohol and implicated in aging.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Early online date15 Jun 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2022


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