Alzheimer’s Precision Neurology: Epigenetics of Cytochrome P450 Genes in Circulating Cell-Free DNA for Disease Prediction and Mechanism

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International Journal of Molecular Sciences


Precision neurology combines high-throughput technologies and statistical modeling to identify novel disease pathways and predictive biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Brain cytochrome P450 (CYP) genes are major regulators of cholesterol, sex hormone, and xenobiotic metabolism, and they could play important roles in neurodegenerative disorders. Increasing evidence suggests that epigenetic factors contribute to AD development. We evaluated cytosine (‘CpG’)-based DNA methylation changes in AD using circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA), to which neuronal cells are known to contribute. We investigated CYP-based mechanisms for AD pathogenesis and epigenetic biomarkers for disease detection. We performed a case–control study using 25 patients with AD and 23 cognitively healthy controls using the cfDNA of CYP genes. We performed a logistic regression analysis using the MetaboAnalyst software computer program and a molecular pathway analysis based on epigenetically altered CYP genes using the Cytoscape program. We identified 130 significantly (false discovery rate correction q-value < 0.05) differentially methylated CpG sites within the CYP genes. The top two differentially methylated genes identified were CYP51A1 and CYP2S1. The significant molecular pathways that were perturbed in AD cfDNA were (i) androgen and estrogen biosynthesis and metabolism, (ii) C21 steroid hormone biosynthesis and metabolism, and (iii) arachidonic acid metabolism. Existing evidence suggests a potential role of each of these biochemical pathways in AD pathogenesis. Next, we randomly divided the study group into discovery and validation sub-sets, each consisting of patients with AD and control patients. Regression models for AD prediction based on CYP CpG methylation markers were developed in the discovery or training group and tested in the independent validation group. The CYP biomarkers achieved a high predictive accuracy. After a 10-fold cross-validation, the combination of cg17852385/cg23101118 + cg14355428/cg22536554 achieved an AUC (95% CI) of 0.928 (0.787~1.00), with 100% sensitivity and 92.3% specificity for AD detection in the discovery group. The performance remained high in the independent validation or test group, achieving an AUC (95% CI) of 0.942 (0.905~0.979) with a 90% sensitivity and specificity. Our findings suggest that the epigenetic modification of CYP genes may play an important role in AD pathogenesis and that circulating CYP-based cfDNA biomarkers have the potential to accurately and non-invasively detect AD.





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