Background: Although the genomes of monozygotic twins are practically identical, their methylomes may evolve divergently throughout their lifetime as a consequence of factors such as the environment or aging. Particularly for young and healthy monozygotic twins, DNA methylation divergence, if any, may be restricted to stochastic processes occurring post-twinning during embryonic development and early life. However, to what extent such stochastic mechanisms can systematically provide a stable source of inter-individual epigenetic variation remains uncertain until now. Results: We enriched for inter-individual stochastic variation by using an equivalence testing-based statistical approach on whole blood methylation microarray data from healthy adolescent monozygotic twins. As a result, we identified 333 CpGs displaying similarly large methylation variation between monozygotic co-twins and unrelated individuals. Although their methylation variation surpasses measurement error and is stable in a short timescale, susceptibility to aging is apparent in the long term. Additionally, 46% of these CpGs were replicated in adipose tissue. The identified sites are significantly enriched at the clustered protocadherin loci, known for stochastic methylation in developing neurons. We also confirmed an enrichment in monozygotic twin DNA methylation discordance at these loci in whole genome bisulfite sequencing data from blood and adipose tissue. Conclusions: We have isolated a component of stochastic methylation variation, distinct from genetic influence, measurement error, and epigenetic drift. Biomarkers enriched in this component may serve in the future as the basis for universal epigenetic fingerprinting, relevant for instance in the discrimination of monozygotic twin individuals in forensic applications, currently impossible with standard DNA profiling.
|Publication status||Published - 5 Jan 2021|