Background: Perinatal childhood exposures, including probiotic supplementation, may affect epigenetic modifications and impact on immune maturation and allergy development. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of pre- and postnatal Lactobacillus reuteri supplementation on DNA methylation in relation to immune maturation and allergy development.
Methods: DNA methylation patterns were investigated for allergy-related T helper subsets using a locus-specific method and at a genome-wide scale using the Illumina 450K array. From a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled allergy prevention trial with pre- and postnatal probiotic supplementation, CD4+ T helper cells were obtained at birth (from cord blood), and 12 and 24 months of age (total (placebo/probiotics); locus-specific method: CB = 32 (17/15), 12 months = 24 (9/15), 24 months = 35 (15/20); Illumina: CB = 19 (10/9), 12 months = 10 (6/4), 24 months = 19(11/8)).
Results: Comparing probiotics to placebo, the greatest genome-wide differential DNA methylation was observed at birth, where the majority of sites were hypomethylated, indicating transcriptional accessibility in the probiotic group. Bioinformatic analyses, including network analyses, revealed a module containing 91 genes, enriched for immune-related pathways such as chemotaxis, PI3K-Akt, MAPK and TGF-β signalling. A majority of the module genes were associated with atopic manifestations (OR = 1.43, P = 2.4 × 10-6 ), and a classifier built on this model could predict allergy development (AUC = 0.78, P = 3.0 × 10e-3 ). Pathways such as IFN-γ signalling and T-cell activation were more hypermethylated at birth compared with later in life in both intervention groups over time, in line with DNA methylation patterns in the IFNG locus obtained by the locus-specific methodology.
Conclusion: Maternal L. reuteri supplementation during pregnancy alters DNA methylation patterns in CD4+ T cells towards enhanced immune activation at birth, which may affect immune maturation and allergy development.
Keywords: Lactobacillus reuteri; CD4+ T helper cells; DNA methylation; allergy; infants; postnatal; prenatal; probiotics.
© 2020 The Authors. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.