Background: The placenta is the central regulator of maternal and fetal interactions. Perturbations of placental structure and function have been associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes later in life. Placental CpG methylation represents an epigenetic modification with the potential to impact placental function, fetal development and child health later in life.
Study design: Genome-wide placental CpG methylation levels were compared between spontaneous versus indicated deliveries from extremely preterm births (EPTBs) (n = 84). The association between the identified differentially methylated CpG sites and neurocognitive outcome at ten years of age was then evaluated.
Results: Spontaneous EPTB was associated with differential CpG methylation levels in 250 CpG sites (217 unique genes) with the majority displaying hypermethylation. The identified genes are known to play a role in neurodevelopment and are enriched for basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor binding sites. The placental CpG methylation levels for 17 of these sites predicted cognitive function at ten years of age.
Conclusion: A hypermethylation signature is present in DNA from placentas in infants with spontaneous EPTB. CpG methylation levels of critical neurodevelopment genes in the placenta predicted later life cognitive function, supporting the developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis (DOHaD).