Genome-wide DNA methylation study in human placenta identifies novel loci associated with maternal smoking during pregnancy

Int J Epidemiol. 2016 Oct;45(5):1644-1655. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw196. Epub 2016 Sep 1.


Background: We conducted an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) of DNA methylation in placenta in relation to maternal tobacco smoking during pregnancy and examined whether smoking-induced changes lead to low birthweight.

Methods: DNA methylation in placenta was measured using the Illumina HumanMethylation450 BeadChip in 179 participants from the INfancia y Medio Ambiente (INMA) birth cohort. Methylation levels across 431 311 CpGs were tested for differential methylation between smokers and non-smokers in pregnancy. We took forward three top-ranking loci for further validation and replication by bisulfite pyrosequencing using data of 248 additional participants of the INMA cohort. We examined the association of methylation at smoking-associated loci with birthweight by applying a mediation analysis and a two-sample Mendelian randomization approach.

Results: Fifty CpGs were differentially methylated in placenta between smokers and non-smokers during pregnancy [false discovery rate (FDR) < 0.05]. We validated and replicated differential methylation at three top-ranking loci: cg27402634 located between LINC00086 and LEKR1, a gene previously related to birthweight in genome-wide association studies; cg20340720 (WBP1L); and cg25585967 and cg12294026 (TRIO). Dose-response relationships with maternal urine cotinine concentration during pregnancy were confirmed. Differential methylation at cg27402634 explained up to 36% of the lower birthweight in the offspring of smokers (Sobel P-value < 0.05). A two-sample Mendelian randomization analysis provided evidence that decreases in methylation levels at cg27402634 lead to decreases in birthweight.

Conclusions: We identified novel loci differentially methylated in placenta in relation to maternal smoking during pregnancy. Adverse effects of maternal smoking on birthweight of the offspring may be mediated by alterations in the placental methylome.

Keywords: DNA methylation; birthweight; epigenetics; fetal programming; placenta; tobacco smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight / genetics*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cotinine / urine
  • CpG Islands / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Spain
  • Tobacco Smoking / adverse effects*


  • Cotinine