Recent years have opened an exciting time for epigenetics research, particularly with respect to development.
“The epigenome is labile during periods of rapid cell division, and a change during that time is more likely to impact the organism. It may also be the ideal place for intervention,” pointed out Alicia K. Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.
Dr. Smith and colleagues recently reported differences in neonatal CpG methylation that are specific to gestational age, and are present even in term deliveries.
“It is known that DNA methylation patterns change as a person ages, but no study to date has shown such extensive differences over the weeks prior to delivery,” said Dr. Smith.
The causal link between lower gestational age and the predisposition, over the course of the lifespan, to neuropsychiatric disorders and adult onset complex diseases has been known for several years, and these novel findings open the intriguing possibility that DNA methylation patterns may contribute to this association.
“The central question is whether the different DNA methylation patterns that we see at different gestational ages are stable, and would predispose to detrimental health outcomes, or whether they continue to change as the individuals age,” explained Dr. Smith.