Epigenetic variation is increasingly hypothesized as a mechanism underlying the effect of the in utero environment on long-term postnatal health; however, there is currently little clear data to support this in humans. A number of biological and technical factors provide challenges for the design of clinical epigenetic studies: from the type of cells or tissues that are available to the large range of predicted confounders that may impact findings. The human placenta, in addition to other neonatal tissues and whole blood, is commonly sampled for the study of epigenetic modifications. However there is little conformity for the most appropriate methods for study design, data analysis, and importantly, data interpretation. Here we present general recommendations for the reporting of DNA methylation in biological samples, with specific focus on the placenta. We outline key guidelines for: (1) placental sampling, (2) data analysis and presentation, and (3) interpretation of DNA methylation data. We emphasize the need to consider methodological noise, increase statistical power and to ensure appropriate adjustment for biological covariates. Finally, we highlight that epigenetic changes may be non-pathological and not necessarily translate into disease-associated changes. Improved reporting of DNA methylation data will be critical to identify epigenetic-based effects and to better understand the full phenotypic impact of these widely-reported epigenomic changes.
Keywords: DNA methylation; DOHAD; analysis; epigenetics; guidelines; placenta.