DNA methylation loci in placenta associated with birthweight and expression of genes relevant for early development and adult diseases

Tekola-Ayele, Fasil; Zeng, Xuehuo; Ouidir, Marion; Workalemahu, Tsegaselassie; Zhang, Cuilin; Delahaye, Fabien; Wapner, Ronald

Birthweight marks an important milestone of health across the lifespan, including cardiometabolic disease risk in later life. The placenta, a transient organ at the maternal-fetal interface, regulates fetal growth. Identifying genetic loci where DNA methylation in placenta is associated with birthweight can unravel genomic pathways that are dysregulated in aberrant fetal growth and cardiometabolic diseases in later life.

We performed placental epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) of birthweight in an ethnic diverse cohort of pregnant women (n = 301). Methylation at 15 cytosine-(phosphate)-guanine sites (CpGs) was associated with birthweight (false discovery rate (FDR) < 0.05). Methylation at four (26.7%) CpG sites was associated with placental transcript levels of 15 genes (FDR < 0.05), including genes known to be associated with adult lipid traits, inflammation and oxidative stress. Increased methylation at cg06155341 was associated with higher birthweight and lower FOSL1 expression, and lower FOSL1 expression was correlated with higher birthweight. Given the role of the FOSL1 transcription factor in regulating developmental processes at the maternal-fetal interface, epigenetic mechanisms at this locus may regulate fetal development. We demonstrated trans-tissue portability of methylation at four genes (MLLT1, PDE9A, ASAP2, and SLC20A2) implicated in birthweight by a previous study in cord blood. We also found that methylation changes known to be related to maternal underweight, preeclampsia and adult type 2 diabetes were associated with lower birthweight in placenta.

We identified novel placental DNA methylation changes associated with birthweight. Placental epigenetic mechanisms may underlie dysregulated fetal development and early origins of adult cardiometabolic diseases.

Clinical trial registration, NCT00912132


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Clinical Epigenetics

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Published Here
September 22, 2023


Placenta, Birthweight, Fetal growth, DNA methylation, Transcriptomics, Expression quantitative trait methylation (eQTM), Developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD)