Prenatal phthalate exposure and altered patterns of DNA methylation in cord blood

Environ Mol Mutagen. 2017 Jul;58(6):398-410. doi: 10.1002/em.22095. Epub 2017 May 28.


Epigenetic changes such as DNA methylation may be a molecular mechanism through which environmental exposures affect health. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors with ubiquitous exposures in the general population including pregnant women, and they have been linked with a number of adverse health outcomes. We examined the association between in utero phthalate exposure and altered patterns of cord blood DNA methylation in 336 Mexican-American newborns. Concentrations of 11 phthalate metabolites were analyzed in maternal urine samples collected at 13 and 26 weeks gestation as a measure of fetal exposure. DNA methylation was assessed using the Infinium HumanMethylation 450K BeadChip adjusting for cord blood cell composition. To identify differentially methylated regions (DMRs) that may be more informative than individual CpG sites, we used two different approaches, DMRcate and comb-p. Regional assessment by both methods identified 27 distinct DMRs, the majority of which were in relation to multiple phthalate metabolites. Most of the significant DMRs (67%) were observed for later pregnancy (26 weeks gestation). Further, 51% of the significant DMRs were associated with the di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate metabolites. Five individual CpG sites were associated with phthalate metabolite concentrations after multiple comparisons adjustment (FDR), all showing hypermethylation. Genes with DMRs were involved in inflammatory response (IRAK4 and ESM1), cancer (BRCA1 and LASP1), endocrine function (CNPY1), and male fertility (IFT140, TESC, and PRDM8). These results on differential DNA methylation in newborns with prenatal phthalate exposure provide new insights and targets to explore mechanism of adverse effects of phthalates on human health. Environ. Mol. Mutagen. 58:398-410, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: 450K; children; epigenetics; in utero exposure; phthalates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • CpG Islands / genetics
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / drug effects
  • Fetal Blood / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Metabolome / drug effects
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics*


  • Phthalic Acids
  • phthalic acid