OBJECTIVES: Early life stress is known to have enduring biological effects, particularly with respect to health. Epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation, are a possible mechanism to mediate the biological effect of stress. We previously found correlations between maternal stress, newborn birthweight, and genome-wide measures of DNA methylation. Here we investigate ten genes related to the methylation/demethylation complex in order to better understand the impact of stress on health.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: DNA methylation and genetic variants at methylation/demethylation genes were assayed. Mean methylation measures were constructed for each gene and tested, in addition to genetic variants, for association with maternal stress measures based on interview and survey data (chronic stress and war trauma), maternal venous, and newborn cord genome-wide mean methylation (GMM), and birthweight.
RESULTS: After cell type correction, we found multiple pairwise associations between war trauma, maternal GMM, maternal methylation at DNMT1, DNMT3A, TET3, and MBD2, and birthweight.
CONCLUSIONS: The association of maternal GMM and maternal methylation at DNMT1, DNMT3A, TET3, and MBD2 is consistent with the role of these genes in establishing, maintaining and altering genome-wide methylation patterns, in some cases in response to stress. DNMT1 produces one of the primary enzymes that reproduces methylation patterns during DNA replication. DNMT3A and TET3 have been implicated in genome-wide hypomethylation in response to glucocorticoid hormones. Although we cannot determine the directionality of the genic and genome-wide changes in methylation, our results suggest that altered methylation of specific methylation genes may be part of the molecular mechanism underlying the human biological response to stress.
- DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1/genetics
- DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases/genetics
- DNA Methylation/genetics
- DNA-Binding Proteins/genetics
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Epigenesis, Genetic/genetics
- Infant, Newborn
- Mother-Child Relations
- Sequence Analysis, DNA
- Stress, Psychological/genetics
- War Exposure