Environmentally sensitive hotspots in the methylome of the early human embryo

Matt J. Silver, Ayden Saffari, Noah J. Kessler, Gririraj R. Chandak, Caroline H. D. Fall, Prachand Issarapu, Akshay Dedaniya, Modupeh Betts, Sophie E. Moore, Michael N. Routledge, Zdenko Herceg, Cyrille Cuenin, Maria Derakhshan, Philip T. James, David Monk, Andrew M. Prentice

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In humans, DNA methylation marks inherited from gametes are largely erased following fertilisation, prior to construction of the embryonic methylome. Exploiting a natural experiment of seasonal variation including changes in diet and nutritional status in rural Gambia, we analysed three datasets covering two independent child cohorts and identified 259 CpGs showing consistent associations between season of conception (SoC) and DNA methylation. SoC effects were most apparent in early infancy, with evidence of attenuation by mid-childhood. SoC-associated CpGs were enriched for metastable epialleles, parent-of-origin specific methylation and germline DMRs, supporting a periconceptional environmental influence. Many SoC-associated CpGs overlapped enhancers or sites of active transcription in H1 ESCs and fetal tissues. Half were influenced but not determined by measured genetic variants that were independent of SoC. Environmental ‘hotspots’ providing a record of environmental influence at periconception constitute a valuable resource for investigating epigenetic mechanisms linking early exposures to lifelong health and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere72031
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022

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