Microorganisms in the human placenta are associated with altered CpG methylation of immune and inflammation-related genes

PLoS One. 2017 Dec 14;12(12):e0188664. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0188664. eCollection 2017.


Microorganisms in the placenta have been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes as well as neonatal illness. Inflammation in the placenta has been identified as a contributing factor in this association, but the underlying biological mechanisms are not yet fully understood. The placental epigenome may serve as an intermediate between placental microbes and inflammation, contributing to adverse outcomes in the offspring. In the present study, genome-wide DNA methylation (n = 486,428 CpG sites) of 84 placentas was analyzed in relation to 16 species of placental microorganisms using samples collected from the Extremely Low Gestation Age Newborns (ELGAN) cohort. A total of n = 1,789 CpG sites, corresponding to n = 1,079 genes, displayed differential methylation (q<0.1) in relation to microorganisms. The altered genes encode for proteins that are involved in immune/inflammatory responses, specifically the NF-κB signaling pathway. These data support bacteria-dependent epigenetic patterning in the placenta and provide potential insight into mechanisms that associate the presence of microorganisms in the placenta to pregnancy and neonatal outcomes. This study lays the foundation for investigations of the placental microbiome and its role in placental function.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • CpG Islands*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity / genetics*
  • Inflammation / genetics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Placenta / microbiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Young Adult