Changes in the leukocyte methylome and its effect on cardiovascular-related genes after exercise

Joshua Denham, Brendan J. O'Brien, Francine Z. Marques, Fadi J. Charchar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Physical exercise has proven cardiovascular benefits, yet there is no clear understanding of the related molecular mechanisms leading to this. Here we determined the beneficial epigenetic effects of exercise after sprint interval training, a form of exercise known to improve cardiometabolic health. We quantified genome-wide leukocyte DNA methylation of 12 healthy young (18-24 yr) men before and after 4 wk (thrice weekly) of sprint interval training using the 450K BeadChip (Illumina) and validated gene expression changes in an extra seven subjects. Exercise increased subjects' cardiorespiratory fitness and maximal running performance, and decreased low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration in conjunction with genome-wide DNA methylation changes. Notably, many CpG island and gene promoter regions were demethylated after exercise, indicating increased genome-wide transcriptional changes. Among genes with DNA methylation changes, epidermal growth factor (EGF), a ligand of the epidermal growth factor receptor known to be involved in cardiovascular disease, was demethylated and showed decreased mRNA expression. Additionally, we found that in microRNAs miR-21 and miR-210, gene DNA methylation was altered by exercise causing a cascade effect on the expression of the mature microRNA involved in cardiovascular function. Our findings demonstrate that exercise alters DNA methylation in circulating blood cells in microRNA and protein-coding genes associated with cardiovascular physiology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-488
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Cholesterol
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • MicroRNA
  • Sprint interval training

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