Epigenetics. 2022 Mar;17(3):253-268. doi: 10.1080/15592294.2021.1897059. Epub 2021 Apr 2.
The maternal epigenome may be responsive to prenatal metals exposures. We tested whether metals are associated with concurrent differential maternal whole blood DNA methylation. In the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation cohort, we measured first or second trimester maternal blood metals concentrations (cadmium, lead, mercury, manganese, and selenium) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. DNA methylation in maternal whole blood was measured on the Illumina 450 K array. A subset sample of 97 women had both measures available for analysis, all of whom did not report smoking during pregnancy. Linear regression was used to test for site-specific associations between individual metals and DNA methylation, adjusting for cell type composition and confounding variables. Discovery gene ontology analysis was conducted on the top 1,000 sites associated with each metal. We observed hypermethylation at 11 DNA methylation sites associated with lead (FDR False Discovery Rate q-value <0.1), near the genes CYP24A1, ASCL2, FAT1, SNX31, NKX6-2, LRC4C, BMP7, HOXC11, PCDH7, ZSCAN18, and VIPR2. Lead-associated sites were enriched (FDR q-value <0.1) for the pathways cell adhesion, nervous system development, and calcium ion binding. Manganese was associated with hypermethylation at four DNA methylation sites (FDR q-value <0.1), one of which was near the gene ARID2. Manganese-associated sites were enriched for cellular metabolism pathways (FDR q-value<0.1). Effect estimates for DNA methylation sites associated (p < 0.05) with cadmium, lead, and manganese were highly correlated (Pearson ρ > 0.86). DNA methylation sites associated with lead and manganese may be potential biomarkers of exposure or implicate downstream gene pathways.