Wilson GA, Butcher LM, Foster HR, Feber A, Roos C, Walter L, Woszczek G, Beck S, Bell CG
BACKGROUND: Common human diseases are caused by the complex interplay of genetic susceptibility as well as environmental factors. Due to the environment's influence on the epigenome, and therefore genome function, as well as conversely the genome's facilitative effect on the epigenome, analysis of this level of regulation may increase our knowledge of disease pathogenesis. METHODS: In order to identify human-specific epigenetic influences, we have performed a novel genome-wide DNA methylation analysis comparing human, chimpanzee and rhesus macaque. RESULTS: We have identified that the immunological Leukotriene B4 receptor (LTB4R, BLT1 receptor) is the most epigenetically divergent human gene in peripheral blood in comparison with other primates. This difference is due to the co-ordinated active state of human-specific hypomethylation in the promoter and human-specific increased gene body methylation. This gene is vital in innate immunity, and the LTB4/LTB4R pathway is involved in the pathogenesis of the spectrum of human inflammatory diseases. This finding was confirmed by additional neutrophil-only DNA methylome and lymphoblastoid H3K4me3 chromatin comparative data. Additionally we show through functional analysis that this receptor has increased expression and a higher response to the LTB4 ligand in human versus rhesus macaque peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Genome-wide we also find human species-specific differentially methylated regions (human s-DMRs) are more prevalent in CpG island shores than within the islands themselves, and within the latter are associated with the CTCF motif. CONCLUSIONS: This result further emphasises the exclusive nature of the human immunological system, its divergent adaptation even from very closely related primates, and the power of comparative epigenomics to identify and understand human uniqueness.