BACKGROUND: Prenatal exposure to air pollution is considered to be associated with adverse effects on child health. This may partly be mediated by mechanisms related to DNA methylation.
OBJECTIVES: We investigated associations between exposure to air pollution, using nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as marker, and epigenome-wide cord blood DNA methylation.
METHODS: We meta-analyzed the associations between NO2 exposure at residential addresses during pregnancy and cord blood DNA methylation (Illumina 450K) in four European and North American studies (n = 1,508) with subsequent look-up analyses in children ages 4 (n = 733) and 8 (n = 786) years. Additionally, we applied a literature-based candidate approach for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory genes. To assess influence of exposure at the transcriptomics level, we related mRNA expression in blood cells to NO2 exposure in 4- (n = 111) and 16-year-olds (n = 239).
RESULTS: We found epigenome-wide significant associations [false discovery rate (FDR) p <0.05] between maternal NO2 exposure during pregnancy and DNA methylation in newborns for 3 CpG sites in mitochondria-related genes: cg12283362 (LONP1), cg24172570 (3.8 kbp upstream of HIBADH), and cg08973675 (SLC25A28). The associations with cg08973675 methylation were also significant in the older children. Further analysis of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory genes revealed differentially methylated CpGs in CAT and TPO in newborns (FDR p <0.05). NO2 exposure at the time of biosampling in childhood had a significant impact on CAT and TPO expression.
CONCLUSIONS: NO2 exposure during pregnancy was associated with differential offspring DNA methylation in mitochondria-related genes. Exposure to NO2 was also linked to differential methylation as well as expression of genes involved in antioxidant defense pathways.