STUDY QUESTION: Is cord blood DNA methylation associated with having been conceived by medically assisted reproduction?
SUMMARY ANSWER: This study does not provide strong evidence of an association of conception by medically assisted reproduction with variation in infant blood cell DNA methylation.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Medically assisted reproduction consists of procedures used to help infertile/subfertile couples conceive, including ART. Due to its importance in gene regulation during early development programming, DNA methylation and its perturbations associated with medically assisted reproduction could reveal new insights into the biological effects of assisted reproductive technologies and potential adverse offspring outcomes.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: We investigated the association of DNA methylation and medically assisted reproduction using a case-control study design (N = 205 medically assisted reproduction cases and N = 2439 naturally conceived controls in discovery cohorts; N = 149 ART cases and N = 58 non-ART controls in replication cohort).
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTINGS, METHODS: We assessed the association between medically assisted reproduction and DNA methylation at birth in cord blood (205 medically assisted conceptions and 2439 naturally conceived controls) at >450 000 CpG sites across the genome in two sub-samples of the UK Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and two sub-samples of the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) by meta-analysis. We explored replication of findings in the Australian Clinical review of the Health of adults conceived following Assisted Reproductive Technologies (CHART) study (N = 149 ART conceptions and N = 58 controls).
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: The ALSPAC and MoBa meta-analysis revealed evidence of association between conception by medically assisted reproduction and DNA methylation (false-discovery-rate-corrected P-value < 0.05) at five CpG sites which are annotated to two genes (percentage difference in methylation per CpG, cg24051276: Beta = 0.23 (95% CI 0.15,0.31); cg00012522: Beta = 0.47 (95% CI 0.31, 0.63); cg17855264: Beta = 0.31 (95% CI 0.20, 0.43); cg17132421: Beta = 0.30 (95% CI 0.18, 0.42); cg18529845: Beta = 0.41 (95% CI 0.25, 0.57)). Methylation at three of these sites has been previously linked to cancer, aging, HIV infection and neurological diseases. None of these associations replicated in the CHART cohort. There was evidence of a functional role of medically assisted reproduction-induced hypermethylation at CpG sites located within regulatory regions as shown by putative transcription factor binding and chromatin remodelling.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTIONS: While insufficient power is likely, heterogeneity in types of medically assisted reproduction procedures and between populations may also contribute. Larger studies might identify replicable variation in DNA methylation at birth due to medically assisted reproduction.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Newborns conceived with medically assisted procedures present with divergent DNA methylation in cord blood white cells. If these associations are true and causal, they might have long-term consequences for offspring health.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS(S): This study has been supported by the US National Institute of Health (R01 DK10324), the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant agreement no. 669545, European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant agreement no. 733206 (LifeCycle) and the NIHR Biomedical Centre at the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol. The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (Grant ref: 102215/2/13/2) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. Methylation data in the ALSPAC cohort were generated as part of the UK BBSRC funded (BB/I025751/1 and BB/I025263/1) Accessible Resource for Integrated Epigenomic Studies (ARIES, http://www.ariesepigenomics.org.uk). D.C., J.J., C.L.R. D.A.L and H.R.E. work in a Unit that is supported by the University of Bristol and the UK Medical Research Council (Grant nos. MC_UU_00011/1, MC_UU_00011/5 and MC_UU_00011/6). B.N. is supported by an NHMRC (Australia) Investigator Grant (1173314). ALSPAC GWAS data were generated by Sample Logistics and Genotyping Facilities at Wellcome Sanger Institute and LabCorp (Laboratory Corporation of America) using support from 23andMe. The Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study is supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services and the Ministry of Education and Research, NIH/NIEHS (Contract no. N01-ES-75558), NIH/NINDS (Grant nos. (i) UO1 NS 047537-01 and (ii) UO1 NS 047537-06A1). For this work, MoBa 1 and 2 were supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Z01-ES-49019) and the Norwegian Research Council/BIOBANK (Grant no. 221097). This work was partly supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme, Project no. 262700.D.A.L. has received support from national and international government and charity funders, as well as from Roche Diagnostics and Medtronic for research unrelated to this study. The other authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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- Bristol Population Health Science Institute