Leveraging the urban-rural divide for epigenetic research

H. Toinét Cronjé*, Hannah R Elliott, Cornelie Nienaber-Rousseau, Marlien Pieters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Urbanisation coincides with a complex change in environmental exposure and a rapid increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Epigenetics, including DNA methylation (DNAm), is thought to mediate part of the association between genetic/environmental exposure and NCDs. The urban-rural divide provides a unique opportunity to investigate the effect of the combined presence of multiple forms of environmental exposure on DNAm and the related increase in disease risk. This review evaluates the ability of three epidemiological study designs (migration, income-comparative and urban-rural designs) to investigate the role of DNAm in the association between urbanisation and the rise in NCD prevalence. We also discuss the ability of each study design to address the gaps in current literature, including the complex methylation-mediated risk attributable to the cluster of forms of exposure characterising urban and rural living, while providing a platform for developing countries to leverage their demographic discrepancies in future research ventures.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Early online date13 Jul 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jul 2020


  • DNA methylation
  • epigenetic epidemiology
  • epigenetics and disease
  • LMIC
  • noncommunicable disease
  • urbanization


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