Epigenetic Lay Summaries

DNA methylation has long-term effects on body size and composition

Keywords: childhood, DNA methylation, fetal programming, head circumference, growth, adiposity

What is already known about this subject:

  • Conditions during pregnancy can determine health in later life. The term ‘fetal programming’ describes the way in which environmental events can change how genes are switched on or off during the development of a baby’s organs and tissues in such a way has long-lasting consequences.
  • One of the mechanisms by which fetal programming occurs is via DNA methylation, a process in which genes are switched ‘on’ or ‘off’. In general, methylation of a gene tends to turn it ‘off’, and abnormal patterns of methylation can lead to disease.
  • Altered methylation of genes that control growth and body composition have been associated with obesity-related diseases in early life, however it is not known whether these effects persist into later childhood.

What this Raine study adds:

  • Data from Raine participants showed no evidence that DNA methylation in whole blood at 17 years of age was associated with birth size.
  • DNA methylation was associated with altered head circumference throughout childhood and with fat distribution patterns at 17 years of age.
  • DNA methylation of genes controlling growth and body composition can have long-term effects and may affect growth and body composition patterns over time.

Huang, Rae-Chi, John C Galati, Sally Burrows, Lawrence J Beilin, Xin Li, Craig E Pennell, J A van Eekelen, Trevor A Mori, Leon A Adams, and Jeffrey M Craig. 2012. “DNA Methylation of the IGF2/H19 Imprinting Control Region and Adiposity Distribution in Young Adults.” Clinical Epigenetics 4 (1) (January): 21. doi:10.1186/1868-7083-4-21. [publink]