Aim: Sex-based differences in response to adverse prenatal environments and infant outcomes have been observed, yet the underlying mechanisms for this are unclear. The placental epigenome may be a driver of these differences.
Methods: Placental DNA methylation was assessed at more than 480,000 CpG sites from male and female infants enrolled in the extremely low gestational age newborns cohort (ELGAN) and validated in a separate US-based cohort. The impact of gestational age on placental DNA methylation was further examined using the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study for a total of n = 467 placentas.
Results: A total of n = 2745 CpG sites, representing n = 587 genes, were identified as differentially methylated (p < 1 × 10-7). The majority (n = 582 or 99%) of these were conserved among the New Hampshire Birth Cohort. The identified genes encode proteins related to immune function, growth/transcription factor signaling and transport across cell membranes.
Conclusion: These data highlight sex-dependent epigenetic patterning in the placenta and provide insight into differences in infant outcomes and responses to the perinatal environment.
Keywords: CpG DNA methylation; epigenetics; placenta; sexual dimorphism.