Background Epigenetics is the study of processes—beyond DNA sequence alteration—producing heritable characteristics. For example, DNA methylation modifies gene expression without altering the nucleotide sequence. A well-studied DNA methylation-based phenomenon is genomic imprinting (ie, genotype-independent parent-of-origin effects).
Objective We aimed to elucidate: (1) the effect of exercise on DNA methylation and (2) the role of imprinted genes in skeletal muscle gene networks (ie, gene group functional profiling analyses).
Design Gene ontology (ie, gene product elucidation)/meta-analysis.
Data sources 26 skeletal muscle and 86 imprinted genes were subjected to g:Profiler ontology analysis. Meta-analysis assessed exercise-associated DNA methylation change.
Data extraction g:Profiler found four muscle gene networks with imprinted loci. Meta-analysis identified 16 articles (387 genes/1580 individuals) associated with exercise. Age, method, sample size, sex and tissue variation could elevate effect size bias.
Data synthesis Only skeletal muscle gene networks including imprinted genes were reported. Exercise-associated effect sizes were calculated by gene. Age, method, sample size, sex and tissue variation were moderators.
Results Six imprinted loci (RB1, MEG3, UBE3A, PLAGL1, SGCE, INS) were important for muscle gene networks, while meta-analysis uncovered five exercise-associated imprinted loci (KCNQ1, MEG3, GRB10, L3MBTL1, PLAGL1). DNA methylation decreased with exercise (60% of loci). Exercise-associated DNA methylation change was stronger among older people (ie, age accounted for 30% of the variation). Among older people, genes exhibiting DNA methylation decreases were part of a microRNA-regulated gene network functioning to suppress cancer.
Conclusions Imprinted genes were identified in skeletal muscle gene networks and exercise-associated DNA methylation change. Exercise-associated DNA methylation modification could rewind the ‘epigenetic clock’ as we age.
Trial registration number CRD42014009800.
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