Predictors and Consequences of Global DNA Methylation in Cord Blood and at Three Years

DNA methylation changes have been implicated in many common chronic diseases leading to the hypothesis that environmental and age-related DNA methylation changes within individuals are involved in disease etiology. Few studies have examined DNA methylation changes within an individual over time and all of these studies have been conducted in adults. Here, we aim to characterize how global DNA methylation changes from birth to age three within a longitudinal birth cohort study and to determine whether there are consistent predictors of DNA methylation levels measured three years apart. We measured global DNA methylation in the same children at birth (cord blood) and again at three years of age among 165 children, using an immunoassay. We found that on average, DNA methylation was significantly higher in blood at age 3-years than in cord blood (p,0.01). However, for any individual child, the difference was less than would be expected by chance. We found that pre-pregnancy BMI was negatively predictive of both cord and three-year DNA methylation, even after statistical adjustment to account for the correlation between cord blood and three-year DNA methylation. The biologic implications of small changes in global DNA methylation are unknown. However, the observation
that global DNA methylation levels persist within an individual from birth to age three supports the belief that factors that influence global DNA methylation, including pre-pregnancy BMI, may confer long-term effects.

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