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Integrated approach of nutritional and molecular epidemiology, mineralogical and chemical pollutant characterisation: the protocol of a cross-sectional study in women


Introduction Environmentally-related health and disease are the result of the exposome, the totality of a person's environmental exposures, from all sources and routes, across their lifespan. Epigenetic phenomena, including DNA methylation, can be potentially modified by environmental and lifestyle factors, and result in environmental reprogramming of the genome for exposed individuals and for future generations of offspring.

Objective The objective of the project is to evaluate the risk of DNA hypomethylation due to air pollution, Mediterranean diet adherence, folate intake, and demographic and socioeconomic factors, in healthy women living in the metropolitan area of Catania, Italy.

Methods and analysis Non-pregnant healthy women will be enrolled in a cross-sectional study. Sociodemographic, lifestyle and dietary intake information will be collected. LINE-1 methylation will be measured by pyrosequencing. The participants' home addresses will be geocoded and each woman will be assigned to the closest monitoring station for particulate matter (PM) exposure assessment. Mineralogical-chemical characterisation of PM and cellular model assays will be performed. An integrated approach will be designed to estimate the combined possible effect of air pollution, Mediterranean diet adherence, folate intake and other lifestyle characteristics on LINE-1 methylation levels.

Ethics and dissemination The project has been approved by the ethics committees of the involved institution and funded by the University of Catania (Finanziamento della Ricerca, FIR 2014). All participants will be fully informed of the purpose and procedures of the study, and signed written consents will be obtained. All the data collected will be treated confidentially and analysed in an aggregate and anonymous way. The results will be published in peer-reviewed journals and communicated to local public health agencies, in order to provide essential information for timely and effective public health action.


This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors AA is the principal investigator of the project. AA, GB, PM, GDG and NC conceived and designed the study. MB, AQ, AM, AC and MI contributed to the design of the protocol and experiments. All the authors participated in the discussion of the protocol and read, edited, and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The project was approved and funded by the University of Catania (Finanziamento della Ricerca, FIR 2014).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data from the study will be available on request.

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