Maternal educational attainment in pregnancy and epigenome-wide DNA methylation changes in the offspring from birth until adolescence

Mol Psychiatry. 2024 Feb;29(2):348-358. doi: 10.1038/s41380-023-02331-5. Epub 2023 Dec 5.

Abstract

Maternal educational attainment (MEA) shapes offspring health through multiple potential pathways. Differential DNA methylation may provide a mechanistic understanding of these long-term associations. We aimed to quantify the associations of MEA with offspring DNA methylation levels at birth, in childhood and in adolescence. Using 37 studies from high-income countries, we performed meta-analysis of epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) to quantify the associations of completed years of MEA at the time of pregnancy with offspring DNA methylation levels at birth (n = 9 881), in childhood (n = 2 017), and adolescence (n = 2 740), adjusting for relevant covariates. MEA was found to be associated with DNA methylation at 473 cytosine-phosphate-guanine sites at birth, one in childhood, and four in adolescence. We observed enrichment for findings from previous EWAS on maternal folate, vitamin-B12 concentrations, maternal smoking, and pre-pregnancy BMI. The associations were directionally consistent with MEA being inversely associated with behaviours including smoking and BMI. Our findings form a bridge between socio-economic factors and biology and highlight potential pathways underlying effects of maternal education. The results broaden our understanding of bio-social associations linked to differential DNA methylation in multiple early stages of life. The data generated also offers an important resource to help a more precise understanding of the social determinants of health.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Academic Success
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA Methylation* / genetics
  • Educational Status*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic* / genetics
  • Epigenome* / genetics
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study* / methods
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics