Association between maternal depression during pregnancy and newborn DNA methylation

Transl Psychiatry. 2021 Nov 8;11(1):572. doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01697-w.


Around 15-65% of women globally experience depression during pregnancy, prevalence being particularly high in low- and middle-income countries. Prenatal depression has been associated with adverse birth and child development outcomes. DNA methylation (DNAm) may aid in understanding this association. In this project, we analyzed associations between prenatal depression and DNAm from cord blood from participants of the South African Drakenstein Child Health Study. We examined DNAm in an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) of 248 mother-child pairs. DNAm was measured using the Infinium MethylationEPIC (N = 145) and the Infinium HumanMethylation450 (N = 103) arrays. Prenatal depression scores, obtained with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), were analyzed as continuous and dichotomized variables. We used linear robust models to estimate associations between depression and newborn DNAm, adjusted for measured (smoking status, household income, sex, preterm birth, cell type proportions, and genetic principal components) and unmeasured confounding using Cate and Bacon algorithms. Bonferroni correction was used to adjust for multiple testing. DMRcate and dmrff were used to test for differentially methylated regions (DMRs). Differential DNAm was significantly associated with BDI-II variables, in cg16473797 (Δ beta = -1.10E-02, p = 6.87E-08), cg23262030 (Δ beta per BDI-II total IQR = 1.47E-03, p = 1.18E-07), and cg04859497 (Δ beta = -6.42E-02, p = 1.06E-09). Five DMRs were associated with at least two depression variables. Further studies are needed to replicate these findings and investigate their biological impact.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth* / genetics