Prenatal Exposure to Mercury: Associations with Global DNA Methylation and Hydroxymethylation in Cord Blood and in Childhood.

BACKGROUND

Mercury is a global pollutant, and prenatal exposure is associated with adverse health effects. To date, no studies have evaluated the association between prenatal mercury exposure and DNA hydroxymethylation, an epigenetic modification important for tissue differentiation and embryonic development.

OBJECTIVES

We sought to evaluate the association between prenatal mercury exposure and offspring global DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation at birth and test for persistence of the association in childhood.

METHODS

Within Project Viva, a U.S. prebirth cohort, we examined associations of maternal second trimester red blood cell mercury (RBC-Hg) concentrations with global 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (%-5hmC) and 5-methylcytosine (%-5mC) DNA content in blood collected at birth (n=306), early childhood (n=68; 2.9 to 4.9 y), and midchildhood (n=260; 6.7 to 10.5 y).

RESULTS

Median prenatal RBC-Hg concentration was 3.23μg/g [interquartile range (IQR)=3.29]. At birth, median cord blood %-5mC, %-5hmC, and their ratio were 4.95%, 0.22%, and 24.37, respectively. The mean adjusted difference [95% confidence interval (CI)] of blood %-5hmC for a doubling in prenatal RBC-Hg concentration was -0.013% (-0.029, 0.002), -0.031% (-0.056, -0.006), and 0.005% (-0.007, 0.018) at birth, early, and midchildhood, respectively. The corresponding relative adjusted change in the genomic ratio of %-5mC to %-5hmC for a doubling in prenatal RBC-Hg concentration was 4.70% (0.04, 9.58), 22.42% (7.73, 39.11), and 0.73% (-4.18, 5.88) at birth, early, and midchildhood, respectively. No associations were present between prenatal maternal RBC-Hg and %-5mC at any time point.

CONCLUSIONS

Prenatal mercury exposure was associated with lower %-5hmC genomic content and a corresponding increase in the ratio of %-5mC to %-5hmC in cord blood. This association was persistent in early but not midchildhood blood. Our results demonstrate the potential malleability of epigenetic modifications associated with mercury exposure in utero. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1467.

Abbreviation
Environ. Health Perspect.
Publication Date
2017-08-29
Volume
125
Issue
8
Page Numbers
087022
Pubmed ID
28934725
Medium
Electronic
Full Title
Prenatal Exposure to Mercury: Associations with Global DNA Methylation and Hydroxymethylation in Cord Blood and in Childhood.
Authors
Cardenas A, Rifas-Shiman SL, Godderis L, Duca RC, Navas-Acien A, Litonjua AA, DeMeo DL, Brennan KJ, Amarasiriwardena CJ, Hivert MF, Gillman MW, Oken E, Baccarelli AA