Preterm birth can leave a long term mark on DNA

Share via AddThis
Posted December 16, 2013

Methylation is one of the main epigenetic markers, which can change during the course of life according to age and environmental factors, like smoking, and may be even expressed differently in different tissues. New research shows methylation patterns could also hold a life-long record of such dramatic events as preterm birth.

Preterm birth could leave an epigenetic legacy on DNA. Image credit: Matt Ray/EHP

Preterm birth could leave an epigenetic legacy on DNA. Image credit: Matt Ray/EHP

Preterm birth is known to be associated with such long-term factors as impaired physical and cognitive development and susceptibility to chronic conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory, visual, auditory disorders and others. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms of these health effects are unclear.

new study (PDF), which was published in Genome Medicine, suggests that methylation patterns could hold a clue to the molecular signature of preterm birth.

DNA methylation patterns of babies born before 31 weeks of gestation and matched full-term controls at birth and 18 years of age were compared to prove this hypothesis. It should be noted that most observed differences in methylation patterns were shown to resolve by the age of 18. These were suggested to be related to gestational age and cell composition, which is expected to be different in extremely preterm babies. However, ten genomic loci were found to hold persistent methylation differences even after the age of 18.

Due to premature transition from safe uterine environment to outside world, preemies are exposed to a variety of environmental factors, which would otherwise be milder or at all absent. Premature infants experience dramatic change in temperature and nutrition, are exposed to external toxins, oxygen deprivation and other stressors. Most of these might only have short-time effects; however, some factors leave a permanent molecular legacy. In fact, studies in mice have demonstrated that full-term in utero nutrition and post-natal maternal care leave permanent epigenetic markers on DNA.

Further research in the area is likely to reveal even more epigenetic variability between premature and term babies, which could explain some of the long-term health effects experienced by preterm babies during infancy and later life.


48,949 science & technology articles


Our Articles (see all)

General News

Follow us

Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest   StumbleUpon   Plurk
Google+   Tumblr   Delicious   RSS   Newsletter via Email

Featured Video (see all)

In control skin from the hip (A) and normal-appearing skin from the abdomen (B), elastic fibers responsible

for skin elasticity are intact, forming an intricate mesh-like network. In stretch marks that have recently

formed during pregnancy (C), elastic fibers are lost and replaced by disorganized, thin fibrils, or “strands,”

that persist without forming a normal elastic network. The middle and bottom panels magnify the identified

areas of the top panels.
Stretch mark science: What happens to your skin when pregnancy gives you a stretch mark?
Don’t believe the hype when you see those creams and ointments promising to prevent or reduce pregnancy stretch…

Featured Image (see all)

Scientists Set Quantum Record by Using Photons to Ferry Data between Electrons 1.2 Miles Apart
Quantum entanglement is the observed phenomenon of two or more particles that are connected, even over thousands of…