DNA methylation and gene expression of HIF3A: cross-tissue validation and associations with BMI and insulin resistance

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Background: Associations between BMI and DNA methylation of hypoxia-inducible factor 3-alpha (HIF3A) in both blood cells and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) have been reported. In this study, we investigated associations between BMI and HIF3A DNA methylation in the blood and SAT from the same individuals, and whether HIF3A gene expression in SAT and skeletal muscle biopsies showed associations with BMI and insulin resistance. Furthermore, we aimed to investigate gender specificity and heritability of these traits. Methods: We studied 137 first-degree relatives of type 2 diabetes (T2D) patients from 48 families, from whom we had SAT and muscle biopsies. DNA methylation of four CpG sites in the HIF3A promoter was analyzed in the blood and SAT by pyrosequencing, and HIF3A gene expression was analyzed in SAT and muscle by qPCR. An index of whole-body insulin sensitivity was estimated from oral glucose tolerance tests. Results: BMI was associated with HIF3A methylation at one CpG site in the blood, and there was a positive association between the blood and SAT methylation levels at a different CpG site within the individuals. The SAT methylation level did not correlate with HIF3A gene expression. Interestingly, HIF3A expression in SAT, but not in muscle, associated negatively with BMI and whole-body insulin resistance. We found a significant effect of familiality on HIF3A methylation levels in the blood and HIF3A expression levels in skeletal muscle. Conclusions: Our findings are in line with the previously reported link between BMI and DNA methylation of HIF3A in the blood. The tissue-specific results of HIF3A gene expression indicate that SAT is the more functional tissue in which a low expression may adversely affect whole-body insulin sensitivity.


  • Ailsa Maria Main
  • Linn Gillberg
  • Anna Louisa Jacobsen
  • Emma Nilsson
  • Anette Prior Gjesing
  • Torben Hansen
  • Oluf Pedersen
  • Rasmus Ribel-Madsen
  • Allan Vaag
External organisations
  • Copenhagen University Hospital
  • Odense University Hospital
  • University of Copenhagen
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Endocrinology and Diabetes


  • Epigenetics, Heritability, Insulin sensitivity, Obesity, Type 2 diabetes
Original languageEnglish
Article number89
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Sep 2
Publication categoryResearch