Background: Several studies have shown effects of current and maternal smoking during pregnancy on DNA methylation of CpG sites in newborns and later in life. Here, we hypothesized that there are long-term and persistent epigenetic effects following maternal smoking during pregnancy on adolescent offspring DNA methylation, independent of paternal and postnatal smoke exposure. Furthermore, we explored the association between DNA methylation and cardiometabolic risk factors at 17 years of age.
Materials and Methods: DNA methylation was measured using the Illumina HumanMethylation450K BeadChip in whole blood from 995 participants attending the 17-year follow-up of the Raine Study. Linear mixed effects models were used to identify differential methylated CpGs, adjusting for parental smoking during pregnancy, and paternal, passive, and adolescent smoke exposure. Additional models examined the association between DNA methylation and paternal, adolescent, and passive smoking over the life course. Offspring CpGs identified were analyzed against cardiometabolic risk factors (blood pressure, triacylglycerols (TG), high-density lipoproteins cholesterol (HDL-C), and body mass index).
Results: We identified 23 CpGs (genome-wide p level: 1.06 x 10(-7)) that were associated with maternal smoking during pregnancy, including associated genes AHRR (cancer development), FTO (obesity), CNTNAP2 (developmental processes), CYP1A1 detoxification), MYO1G (cell signalling), and FRMD4A (nicotine dependence). A sensitivity analysis showed a dose-dependent relationship between maternal smoking and offspring methylation. These results changed little following adjustment for paternal, passive, or offspring smoking, and there were no CpGs identified that associated with these variables. Two of the 23 identified CpGs [cg00253568 (FTO) and cg00213123 (CYP1A1)] were associated with either TG (male and female), diastolic blood pressure (female only), or HDL-C (male only), after Bonferroni correction.
Discussion: This study demonstrates a critical timing of cigarette smoke exposure over the life course for establishing persistent changes in DNA methylation into adolescence in a dose-dependent manner. There were significant associations between offspring CpG methylation and adolescent cardiovascular risk factors, namely, TG, HDL-C, and diastolic blood pressure. Future studies on current smoking habits and DNA methylation should consider the importance of maternal smoking during pregnancy and explore how the persistent DNA methylation effects of in utero smoke exposure increase cardiometabolic risk.