New Research Explores Association of Poverty with Differential Gene Expression

Published: Monday, October 18, 2021, 1:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time

Media Contact: Kara Flynn, 202-257-8424

ROCKVILLE, MD – New research released today suggests that poverty status may influence human cardiovascular and immune health through changes in gene expression and that the effects of these changes differ in women and men. These findings highlight the potential impact a leading socioeconomic factor like poverty may have on gene activity and health, according to Nicole Arnold, PhD, a geneticist at Wayne State University, who presented the study results at the American Society of Human Genetics 2021 Annual Meeting.

Many biomedical and social science studies have documented the complexity of determining the role of social factors and genetic contributors to disease risk or resiliency. Recent studies have also demonstrated that these factors may interrelate through a biologic mechanism called epigenetics, through which many life experiences can alter gene expression to modify disease risk. Such changes in gene expression can be correlated with socioeconomic factors.

To further investigate this relationship, Dr. Arnold and her colleagues investigated the potential epigenetic effects of poverty among Baltimore City residents participating in the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) study. The researchers collected blood samples from 239 participants whose reported household income was either above or below the federal poverty line, including 119 self-identified as Black and 120 self-identified as White. They performed RNA sequencing to identify differential gene expression patterns.

Preliminary analyses revealed 15 genes differentially expressed between individuals living in poverty and those living above the poverty line, while controlling for race, sex and age. Genes differentially expressed in women were associated with wound healing and blood coagulation, while genes associated with poverty status in men were mostly related to processes in the immune system.

Dr. Arnold and her colleagues plan future analyses to examine whether or how self-identified race, genetic ancestry, and poverty may interact and affect gene expression.

“Our study suggests that poverty status influences gene expression in the immune system,” said Dr. Arnold. “The broader implication of this study is that improving health outcomes for at-risk populations could be achievable through a better understanding of the underlying biologic mechanisms by which the socioeconomic environment influences disease.

Media Interest: To learn more about Dr. Arnold’s work or set up an interview, please contact to coordinate.

Reference: Arnold, N., Resztak, J., Alazizi, A., Dubaisi, S., Thorpe Jr., R.J., Noren Hooten, N., Evans, M.K., Dluzen, D.F., Pique-Regi, R., and Luca, F. (October 18, 2021). Abstract: The cost of good health: poverty association with differential gene expression. Presented at the American Society of Human Genetics 2021 Annual Meeting.

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