DNA methylation patterns within whole blood of adolescents born from assisted reproductive technology are not different from adolescents born from natural conception

B Penova-Veselinovic, P E Melton, R C Huang, J L Yovich, P Burton, L A Wijs, R J Hart

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31 Citations (Scopus)


STUDY QUESTION: Do the epigenome-wide DNA methylation profiles of adolescents born from ART differ from the epigenome of naturally conceived counterparts?

SUMMARY ANSWER: No significant differences in the DNA methylation profiles of adolescents born from ART [IVF or ICSI] were observed when compared to their naturally conceived, similar aged counterparts.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Short-term and longer-term studies have investigated the general health outcomes of children born from IVF treatment, albeit without common agreement as to the cause and underlying mechanisms of these adverse health findings. Growing evidence suggests that the reported adverse health outcomes in IVF-born offspring might have underlying epigenetic mechanisms.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: The Growing Up Healthy Study (GUHS) is a prospective study that recruited 303 adolescents and young adults, conceived through ART, to compare various long-term health outcomes and DNA methylation profiles with similar aged counterparts from Generation 2 from the Raine Study. GUHS assessments were conducted between 2013 and 2017. The effect of ART on DNA methylation levels of 231 adolescents mean age 15.96 ± 1.59 years (52.8% male) was compared to 1188 naturally conceived counterparts, 17.25 ± 0.58 years (50.9% male) from the Raine Study.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: DNA methylation profiles from a subset of 231 adolescents (13-19.9 years) from the GUHS, generated using the Infinium Methylation Epic Bead Chip (EPIC) array were compared to 1188 profiles from the Raine Study previously measured using the Illumina 450K array. We conducted epigenome-wide association approach (EWAS) and tested for an association between the cohorts applying Firth's bias reduced logistic regression against the outcome of ART versus naturally conceived offspring. Additionally, within the GUHS cohort, we investigated differences in methylation status in fresh versus frozen embryo transfers, cause of infertility as well as IVF versus ICSI conceived offspring. Following the EWAS analysis we investigated nominally significant probes using Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) to identify enriched biological pathways. Finally, within GUHS we compared four estimates (Horvath, Hanuum, PhenoAge [Levine], and skin Horvath) of epigenetic age and their correlation with chronological age.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Between the two cohorts, we did not identify any DNA methylation probes that reached a Bonferroni corrected P-value < 1.24E-0.7. When comparing IVF versus ICSI conceived adolescents within the GUHS cohort, after adjustment for participant age, sex, maternal smoking, multiple births, and batch effect, three methylation probes (cg15016734, cg26744878 and cg20233073) reached a Bonferroni correction of 6.31E-08. After correcting for cell count heterogeneity, two of the aforementioned probes remained significant and an additional two probes (cg 0331628 and cg 20235051) were identified. A general trend towards hypomethylation in the ICSI offspring was observed. All four measures of epigenetic age were highly correlated with chronological age and showed no evidence of accelerated epigenetic aging within their whole blood.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The small sample size coupled with the use of whole blood, where epigenetic differences may occur in other tissue. This was corrected by the utilized statistical method that accounts for imbalanced sample size between groups and adjusting for cell count heterogeneity. Only a small portion of the methylome was analysed and rare individual differences may be missed.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Our findings provide further reassurance that the effects of the ART manipulations occurring during early embryogenesis, existing in the neonatal period are indeed of a transient nature and do not persist into adolescence. However, we have not excluded that alternative epigenetic mechanisms may be at play.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This project was supported by NHMRC project Grant no. 1042269 and R.J.H. received funding support from Ferring Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd. R.J.H. is the Medical Director of Fertility Specialists of Western Australia and a shareholder in Western IVF. He has received educational sponsorship from Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp.- Australia, Merck-Serono Australia Pty Ltd and Ferring Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd. P.B. is the Scientific Director of Concept Fertility Centre, Subiaco, Western Australia. J.L.Y. is the Medical Director of PIVET Medical Centre, Perth, Western Australia. The remaining authors have no conflicts of interest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2035 - 2049
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


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