Early Onset Pre-Eclampsia Is Associated With Altered DNA Methylation of Cortisol-Signalling and Steroidogenic Genes in the Placenta

PLoS One. 2013 May 7;8(5):e62969. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062969. Print 2013.


Placental cortisol is inactivated in normotensive pregnancies, but is frequently present in pre-eclampsia associated placentae. Since glucocorticoids are strongly associated with the programming of long-term health, we assessed DNA methylation of genes involved in cortisol signalling and bioavailability, and hormonal signalling in the placenta of normotensive and hypertensive pregnancies. Candidate genes/CpG sites were selected through analysis of Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip array data on control (n = 19) and early onset pre-eclampsia (EOPET; n = 19) placental samples. DNA methylation was further quantified by bisulfite pyrosequencing in a larger cohort of control (n = 111) cases, in addition to EOPET (n = 19), late onset pre-eclampsia (LOPET; n = 18) and normotensive intrauterine growth restriction (nIUGR; n = 13) cases. DNA methylation (percentage points) was increased at CpG sites within genes encoding the glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1 exon 1D promoter; +8.46%; P<0.01) and corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) binding protein (CRHBP intron 3; +9.14%; P<0.05), and decreased within CRH (5' UTR; -4.30%; P = 0.11) in EOPET-associated placentae, but not in LOPET nor nIUGR cases, compared to controls. Differential DNA methylation was not observed among groups at the 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (HSD11B2) gene promoter. Significant hypomethylation was observed in pre-eclampsia but not nIUGR placentae for steroidogenic genes, including CYP11A1 (exon1; EOPET; -9.66%; P<0.00001, and LOPET; -5.77%; P<0.001), 3β-hydroxy-delta-5-steroid dehydrogenase type 1 (HSD3B1 exon 2; EOPET; -12.49%; P<0.00001, and LOPET; -6.88%; P<0.001), TEA domain family member 3 (TEAD3 intron 1; EOPET; -12.56%; P<0.00001) and CYP19 (placental-specific exon 1.1 promoter; EOPET; -10.62%, P<0.0001). These data represent dysregulation of the placental epigenome in pre-eclampsia related to genes involved in maintaining the hormonal environment during pregnancy and highlights particular susceptibility in the early onset syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Exons / genetics
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / biosynthesis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Labor Onset / genetics
  • Labor Onset / metabolism
  • Male
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Placenta / pathology*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / genetics*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / metabolism*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / pathology
  • Pre-Eclampsia / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics
  • Time Factors


  • Glucocorticoids
  • NR3C1 protein, human
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Hydrocortisone