DNA methylation, one of the epigenetic marks in cells, is associated with educational achievement (EA). A team led by Jenny van Dongen from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam tested more than 400,000 sites across the entire genome for their relationship with educational achievement in 4152 Dutch adults. 58 such sites were found that were located in and near genes with neuronal, immune and developmental functions. DNA methylation signatures of EA revealed differential exposure to cigarette smoke, even after accounting for own smoking behaviour, and differential exposure to folate and air pollution. EA predicts differential life conditions, including life expectancy. This study shows that these conditions leave their traces in the methylome of white blood cells and affect gene expression. Future research may investigate how these genes influence individual differences in behaviour, education, and health.
The original research article is freely available in our companion journal npj Science of Learning here.