Background: Circulating levels of the chitinase-like protein YKL-40 are influenced by genetic variation in its encoding gene (chitinase 3-like 1 [CHI3L1]) and are increased in patients with several diseases, including asthma. Epigenetic regulation of circulating YKL-40 early in life is unknown. Objective: We sought to determine (1) whether methylation levels at CHI3L1 CpG sites mediate the association of CHI3L1 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with YKL-40 levels in the blood and (2) whether these biomarkers (CHI3L1 SNPs, methylation profiles, and YKL-40 levels) are associated with asthma in early childhood. Methods: We used data from up to 2405 participants from the Spanish Infancia y Medio Ambiente; the Swedish Barn/Children, Allergy, Milieu, Stockholm, Epidemiological survey; and the Dutch Prevention and Incidence of Asthma and Mite Allergy birth cohorts. Associations between 68 CHI3L1 SNPs, methylation levels at 14 CHI3L1 CpG sites in whole-blood DNA, and circulating YKL-40 levels at 4 years of age were tested by using correlation analysis, multivariable regression, and mediation analysis. Each of these biomarkers was also tested for association with asthma at 4 years of age by using multivariable logistic regression. Results: YKL-40 levels were significantly associated with 7 SNPs and with methylation at 5 CpG sites. Consistent associations between these 7 SNPs (particularly rs10399931 and rs4950928) and 5 CpG sites were observed. Alleles linked to lower YKL-40 levels were associated with higher methylation levels. Participants with high YKL-40 levels (defined as the highest YKL-40 tertile) had increased odds for asthma compared with subjects with low YKL-40 levels (meta-analyzed adjusted odds ratio, 1.90 [95% CI, 1.08-3.36]). In contrast, neither SNPs nor methylation levels at CpG sites in CHI3L1 were associated with asthma. Conclusions: The effects of CHI3L1 genetic variation on circulating YKL-40 levels are partly mediated by methylation profiles. In our study YKL-40 levels, but not CHI3L1 SNPs or methylation levels, were associated with childhood asthma.

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Keywords Asthma, CHI3L1, DNA methylation, Epigenetics, Genetics, YKL-40
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Journal Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Grant This work was funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme; grant id fp7/261357 - Mechanisms of the Development of ALLergy (MEDALL)
Guerra, S, Melén, E, Sunyer, J, Xu, C.-J, Lavi, I, Benet, M, … Koppelman, G.H. (2017). Genetic and epigenetic regulation of YKL-40 in childhood. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2017.06.030