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Identification of methylation changes associated with positive and negative growth deviance in Gambian infants using a targeted methyl sequencing approach of genomic DNA.

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Quilter, Claire R 
Harvey, Kerry M 
Bauer, Julien 
Skinner, Benjamin M 
Gomez, Maria 


Low birthweight and reduced height gain during infancy (stunting) may arise at least in part from adverse early life environments that trigger epigenetic reprogramming that may favor survival. We examined differential DNA methylation patterns using targeted methyl sequencing of regions regulating gene activity in groups of rural Gambian infants: (a) low and high birthweight (DNA from cord blood (n = 16 and n = 20, respectively), from placental trophoblast tissue (n = 21 and n = 20, respectively), and DNA from peripheral blood collected from infants at 12 months of age (n = 23 and n = 17, respectively)), and, (b) the top 10% showing rapid postnatal length gain (high, n = 20) and the bottom 10% showing slow postnatal length gain (low, n = 20) based on z score change between birth and 12 months of age (LAZ) (DNA from peripheral blood collected from infants at 12 months of age). Using BiSeq analysis to identify significant methylation marks, for birthweight, four differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were identified in trophoblast DNA, compared to 68 DMRs in cord blood DNA, and 54 DMRs in 12-month peripheral blood DNA. Twenty-five DMRs were observed to be associated with high and low length for age (LAZ) at 12 months. With the exception of five loci (associated with two different genes), there was no overlap between these groups of methylation marks. Of the 194 CpG methylation marks contained within DMRs, 106 were located to defined gene regulatory elements (promoters, CTCF-binding sites, transcription factor-binding sites, and enhancers), 58 to gene bodies (introns or exons), and 30 to intergenic DNA. Distinct methylation patterns associated with birthweight between comparison groups were observed in DNA collected at birth (at the end of intrauterine growth window) compared to those established by 12 months (near the infancy/childhood growth transition). The longitudinal differences in methylation patterns may arise from methylation adjustments, changes in cellular composition of blood or both that continue during the critical postnatal growth period, and in response to early nutritional and infectious environmental exposures with impacts on growth and longer-term health outcomes.



DNA methylation, birthweight, environmental exposures, stunting

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FASEB Bioadv

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Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12015/2)
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (via University of Colorado)
MRC (MC_UU_00006/2)
The funding sources as follows: 1. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (OPP1066932) 2. Core funding to the MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM (MC-A760-5QX00) by the UK MRC and the UK Department for the International Development (DFID) under the MRC/DFID Concordat agreement