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New Study Shows Changes in Genes during Pregnancy May Cause Long-Term Health Effects in Children

Pregnant WomanA new study shows that a change in groups of genes turned "on" and "off” may last from before birth at least into early childhood. Children of mothers with a high body mass index (BMI) may show more of these changes, and could cause lasting health effects in children.

Changes in the pattern of methyl groups (a carbon and three hydrogen atoms) attached to DNA can determine whether a gene is active or inactive in the cell.  Researchers at the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Center at Columbia University showed that the overall methylation level of DNA stays the same from birth to age three.  The authors found that the DNA methylation level in cord blood at birth predicted the level at three years of age.  This study is the first to look at these DNA changes over time in children.

Overall DNA methylation level can be affected by arsenic, lead and air pollution as well as stress and diet.

The researchers also looked at the mother’s body mass index (BMI), before she became pregnant.  Children born to women with high BMIs had low DNA methylation levels, as well as at age three. Low levels of DNA methylation have been linked to DNA damage over time.  While the health impact of these changes is not yet clear, they could cause adverse health effects over a lifetime.

This study shows factors like mother’s BMI prior to and during pregnancy can lead to DNA changes with lasting health effects.

Research at the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Centers is part of EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities program.  This program aims to improve human health and the environment, and to provide tools and methods for a sustainable future.

For more information about Children’s Centers at EPA

More information about the Columbia Children’s Center

For the full article, visit: Herbstman JB, Wang S, Perera FP, Lederman SA, Vishnevetsky J, et al. (2013) Predictors and Consequences of Global DNA Methylation in Cord Blood and at Three Years. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer PLoS ONE 8(9): e72824. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072824

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