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Journal Article

Characterising sex differences of autosomal DNA methylation in whole blood using the Illumina EPIC array


Publication date

14 May 2022


Sex differences are known to play a role in disease aetiology, progression and outcome. Previous studies have revealed autosomal epigenetic differences between males and females in some tissues, including differences in DNA methylation patterns. Here, we report for the first time an analysis of autosomal sex differences in DNAme using the Illumina EPIC array in human whole blood by performing a discovery (n = 1171) and validation (n = 2471) analysis.
We identified and validated 396 sex-associated differentially methylated CpG sites (saDMPs) with the majority found to be female-biased CpGs (74%). These saDMP’s are enriched in CpG islands and CpG shores and located preferentially at 5’UTRs, 3’UTRs and enhancers. Additionally, we identified 266 significant sex-associated differentially methylated regions overlapping genes, which have previously been shown to exhibit epigenetic sex differences, and novel genes. Transcription factor binding site enrichment revealed enrichment of transcription factors related to critical developmental processes and sex determination such as SRY and ESR1.
Our study reports a reliable catalogue of sex-associated CpG sites and elucidates several characteristics of these sites using large-scale discovery and validation data sets. This resource will benefit future studies aiming to investigate sex specific epigenetic signatures and further our understanding of the role of DNA methylation in sex differences in human whole blood.

Published in

Clinical Epigenetics







Medicine, Science And Technology, Health, Biology, and Genetics


Open Access; This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.


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