Paternal DNA Methylation May Be Associated With Gestational Age at Birth


Background: How epigenetic modifications of DNA are associated with gestational age at birth is not fully understood. We investigated potential effects of differential paternal DNA methylation (DNAm) on offspring gestational age at birth by conducting an epigenome-wide search for cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) sites. Methods: Study participants in this study consist of male cohort members or partners of the F1-generation of the Isle of Wight Birth Cohort (IoWBC). DNAm levels in peripheral blood from F1-fathers (n = 92) collected around pregnancy of their spouses were analyzed using the Illumina 450K array. A 5-step statistical analysis was performed. First, a training-testing screening approach was applied to select CpG sites that are potentially associated with gestational age at birth. Second, functional enrichment analysis was employed to identify biological processes. Third, by centralizing on biologically informative genes, Cox proportional hazards models were used to assess the hazard ratios of individual paternal CpGs on gestational age adjusting for confounders. Fourth, to assess the validity of our results, we compared our CpG-gestational age correlations within a Born into Life Study in Sweden (n = 15). Finally, we investigated the correlation between the detected CpGs and differential gene expression in F2 cord blood in the IoWBC. Results: Analysis of DNAm of fathers collected around their partner’s pregnancy identified 216 CpG sites significantly associated with gestational age at birth. Functional enrichment pathways analyses of the annotated genes revealed 2 biological pathways significantly related to cell-cell membrane adhesion molecules. Differential methylation of 9 cell membrane adhesion pathway-related CpGs were significantly associated with gestational age at birth after adjustment for confounders. The replication sample showed correlation coefficients of 2 pathway-related CpGs with gestational age at birth within 95% confidence intervals of correlation coefficients in IoWBC. Finally, CpG sites of protocadherin (PCDH) gene clusters were associated with gene expression of PCDH in F2 cord blood. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that differential paternal DNAm may affect gestational age at birth through cell-cell membrane adhesion molecules. The results are novel but require future replication in a larger cohort.

Publication Title

Epigenetics Insights