Background: Prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) is an important programming factor of postnatal immunity. We tested here the hypothesis that DNA methylation of genes in the NF-κB signaling pathway in T cells mediates the effect of objective PNMS on Th1 and Th2 cytokine production in blood from 13½ year olds who were exposed in utero to the 1998 Quebec ice storm.
Results: Bootstrapping analyses were performed with 47 CpGs across a selection of 20 genes for Th1-type cytokines (IFN-γ and IL-2) and Th2-type cytokines (IL-4 and IL-13). Six CpGs in six different NF-κB signaling genes (PIK3CD, PIK3R2, NFKBIA, TRAF5, TNFRSF1B, and LTBR) remained as significant negative mediators of objective PNMS on IFN-γ secretion after correcting for multiple comparisons. However, no mediation effects on IL-2, IL-4 and IL-13 survived Bonferroni correction.
Conclusions: The present study provides preliminary evidence supporting the mediating role of DNA methylation in the association between objective aspects of PNMS and child immune states, favoring a Th2 shift.
Keywords: Cytokines; DNA methylation; IFN-γ; Mediation effect; NF-κB signaling; Prenatal maternal stress.