Pregnancy exposure to synthetic phenols and placental DNA methylation - An epigenome-wide association study in male infants from the EDEN cohort

Environ Pollut. 2021 Dec 1:290:118024. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118024. Epub 2021 Aug 21.


In utero exposure to environmental chemicals, such as synthetic phenols, may alter DNA methylation in different tissues, including placenta - a critical organ for fetal development. We studied associations between prenatal urinary biomarker concentrations of synthetic phenols and placental DNA methylation. Our study involved 202 mother-son pairs from the French EDEN cohort. Nine phenols were measured in spot urine samples collected between 22 and 29 gestational weeks. We performed DNA methylation analysis of the fetal side of placental tissues using the IlluminaHM450 BeadChips. We evaluated methylation changes of individual CpGs in an adjusted epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) and identified differentially methylated regions (DMRs). We performed mediation analysis to test whether placental tissue heterogeneity mediated the association between urinary phenol concentrations and DNA methylation. We identified 46 significant DMRs (≥5 CpGs) associated with triclosan (37 DMRs), 2,4-dichlorophenol (3), benzophenone-3 (3), methyl- (2) and propylparaben (1). All but 2 DMRs were positively associated with phenol concentrations. Out of the 46 identified DMRs, 7 (6 for triclosan) encompassed imprinted genes (APC, FOXG1, GNAS, GNASAS, MIR886, PEG10, SGCE), which represented a significant enrichment. Other identified DMRs encompassed genes encoding proteins responsible for cell signaling, transmembrane transport, cell adhesion, inflammatory, apoptotic and immunological response, genes encoding transcription factors, histones, tumor suppressors, genes involved in tumorigenesis and several cancer risk biomarkers. Mediation analysis suggested that placental cell heterogeneity may partly explain these associations. This is the first study describing the genome-wide modifications of placental DNA methylation associated with pregnancy exposure to synthetic phenols or their precursors. Our results suggest that cell heterogeneity might mediate the effects of triclosan exposure on placental DNA methylation. Additionally, the enrichment of imprinted genes within the DMRs suggests mechanisms by which certain exposures, mainly to triclosan, could affect fetal development.

Keywords: Alu and LINE-1; Bisphenol A; DNA methylation; Placenta; Prenatal exposure; Triclosan.

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenome*
  • Female
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Phenols / metabolism
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy


  • Histones
  • Phenols