Experimental studies showed that genomic imprinting is fundamental in fetoplacental development by timely regulating the expression of the imprinted genes to overlook a set of events determining placenta implantation, growth and embryogenesis. We examined the expression profile of 22 imprinted genes which have been linked to pregnancy abnormalities that may ultimately influence childhood development. The study was conducted in a subset of 106 placenta samples, overrepresented with small and large for gestational age cases, from the Rhode Island Child Health Study. We investigated associations between imprinted gene expression and three fetal development parameters: newborn head circumference, birth weight, and size for gestational age. Results from our investigation show that the maternally imprinted/paternally expressed gene ZNF331 inversely associates with each parameter to drive smaller fetal size, while paternally imprinted/maternally expressed gene SLC22A18 directly associates with the newborn head circumference promoting growth. Multidimensional Scaling analysis revealed two clusters within the 22 imprinted genes which are independently associated with fetoplacental development. Our data suggest that cluster 1 genes work by assuring cell growth and tissue development, while cluster 2 genes act by coordinating these processes. Results from this epidemiologic study offer solid support for the key role of imprinting in fetoplacental development.
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