Cell-free DNA Methylation and Transcriptomic Signature Prediction of Pregnancies with Adverse Outcomes

Epigenetics. 2021 Jun;16(6):642-661. doi: 10.1080/15592294.2020.1816774. Epub 2020 Oct 13.


Although analysis of maternal plasma cell-free content has been employed for screening of genetic abnormalities within a pregnancy, limited attention has been paid to its use for the detection of adverse pregnancy outcomes (APOs) based on placental function. Here we investigated cell-free DNA and RNA content of 102 maternal and 25 cord plasma samples. Employing a novel deconvolution methodology, we found that during the first trimester, placenta-specific DNA increased prior to the subsequent development of gestational diabetes with no change in patients with preeclampsia while decreasing with maternal obesity. Moreover, using cell-free RNA sequencing, APOs revealed 71 differentially expressed genes early in pregnancy. We noticed the upregulation of S100A8, MS4A3, and MMP8 that have been already associated with APOs but also the upregulation of BCL2L15 and the downregulation of ALPL that have never been associated with APOs. We constructed a classifier with a positive predictive ability (AUC) of 0.91 for APOs, 0.86 for preeclampsia alone and 0.64 for GDM. We conclude that placenta-specific cell-free nucleic acids during early gestation provide the possibility of predicting APOs prior to the emergence of characteristic clinical features.

Keywords: Cell-free DNA; cell-free RNA; gestational diabetes; gestational hypertension; high-risk pregnancy; preeclampsia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids*
  • DNA Methylation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pre-Eclampsia* / genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Transcriptome


  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids