DNA methylation mediates the effect of maternal cognitive appraisal of a disaster in pregnancy on the child's C-peptide secretion in adolescence: Project Ice Storm

PLoS One. 2018 Feb 5;13(2):e0192199. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0192199. eCollection 2018.


Animal and human studies suggest that prenatal exposure to stress is associated with adverse health outcomes such as type 2 diabetes. Epigenetic modification, such as DNA methylation, is considered one possible underlying mechanism. The 1998 Quebec ice storm provides a unique opportunity to study an independent prenatal stressor on child outcomes. C-peptide is the best measure of endogenous insulin secretion and is widely used in the clinical management of patients with diabetes. The objectives of this study are to determine 1) the extent to which prenatal exposure to disaster-related stress (maternal objective hardship and maternal cognitive appraisal) influences children's C-peptide secretion, and 2) whether DNA methylation of diabetes-related genes mediates the effects of prenatal stress on C-peptide secretion. Children's (n = 30) C-peptide secretion in response to an oral glucose tolerance test were assessed in blood at 13½ years. DNA methylation levels of selected type 1 and 2 diabetes-related genes were chosen based upon the genes associated with prenatal maternal objective hardship and/or cognitive appraisal levels. Bootstrapping analyses were performed to determine the mediation effect of DNA methylation. We found that children whose mothers experienced higher objective hardship exhibited higher C-peptide secretion. Cognitive appraisal was not directly associated with C-peptide secretion. DNA methylation of diabetes-related genes had a positive mediation effect of objective hardship on C-peptide secretion: higher objective hardship predicted higher C-peptide secretion through DNA methylation. Negative mediation effects of cognitive appraisal were observed: negative cognitive appraisal predicted higher C-peptide secretion through DNA methylation. However, only one gene, LTA, remained a significant mediator of cognitive appraisal on C-peptide secretion after the conservative Bonferroni multiple corrections. Our findings suggest that DNA methylation could act as an intervening variable between prenatal stress and metabolic outcomes, highlighting the importance of epigenetic mechanisms in response to environmental factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • C-Peptide / metabolism*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects


  • C-Peptide

Grant support

This work was supported by Grant Number: MOP-1150067, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR):http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/193.html. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.