Investigating the effects of maltreatment and acute stress on the concordance of blood and DNA methylation methods of estimating immune cell proportions

Abner T. Apsley, Laura Etzel, Waylon J. Hastings, Christine C. Heim, Jennie G. Noll, Kieran J. O’Donnell, Hannah M.C. Schreier, Chad E. Shenk, Qiaofeng Ye, Idan Shalev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Immune cell proportions can be used to detect pathophysiological states and are also critical covariates in genomic analyses. The complete blood count (CBC) is the most common method of immune cell proportion estimation, but immune cell proportions can also be estimated using whole-genome DNA methylation (DNAm). Although the concordance of CBC and DNAm estimations has been validated in various adult and clinical populations, less is known about the concordance of existing estimators among stress-exposed individuals. As early life adversity and acute psychosocial stress have both been associated with unique DNAm alterations, the concordance of CBC and DNAm immune cell proportion needs to be validated in various states of stress. Results: We report the correlation and concordance between CBC and DNAm estimates of immune cell proportions using the Illumina EPIC DNAm array within two unique studies: Study 1, a high-risk pediatric cohort of children oversampled for exposure to maltreatment (N = 365, age 8 to 14 years), and Study 2, a sample of young adults who have participated in an acute laboratory stressor with four pre- and post-stress measurements (N = 28, number of observations = 100). Comparing CBC and DNAm proportions across both studies, estimates of neutrophils (r = 0.948, p < 0.001), lymphocytes (r = 0.916, p < 0.001), and eosinophils (r = 0.933, p < 0.001) were highly correlated, while monocyte estimates were moderately correlated (r = 0.766, p < 0.001) and basophil estimates were weakly correlated (r = 0.189, p < 0.001). In Study 1, we observed significant deviations in raw values between the two approaches for some immune cell subtypes; however, the observed differences were not significantly predicted by exposure to child maltreatment. In Study 2, while significant changes in immune cell proportions were observed in response to acute psychosocial stress for both CBC and DNAm estimates, the observed changes were similar for both approaches. Conclusions: Although significant differences in immune cell proportion estimates between CBC and DNAm exist, as well as stress-induced changes in immune cell proportions, neither child maltreatment nor acute psychosocial stress alters the concordance of CBC and DNAm estimation methods. These results suggest that the agreement between CBC and DNAm estimators of immune cell proportions is robust to exposure to child maltreatment and acute psychosocial stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number33
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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