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Epigenetics. 2011 Jul;6(7):895-8. Epub 2011 Jul 1.

Heritability and role for the environment in DNA methylation in AXL receptor tyrosine kinase.

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Departments of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


DNA methylation in AXL, a receptor tyrosine kinase relevant in cancer and immune function, is reportedly highly heritable. We present evidence to suggest that heritability of DNA methylation in AXL is variable, dependent on population characteristics and cell type studied. Moreover, environmental exposures in utero, particularly exposure to maternal smoking, contributes to variation in DNA methylation of select CpG loci that can affect calculations of heritability. Children exposed to maternal smoking in utero had a 2.3% increase (95 % CI 0.3, 4.2) in DNA methylation in AXL, which was magnified in girls as compared to boys. These results present compelling evidence that environmental exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy may alter DNA methylation levels in subtle but potentially important ways, and that these changes are persistent years after birth.

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