Epigenome-wide change and variation in DNA methylation in childhood: Trajectories from birth to late adolescence

Rosa H Mulder, Alexander Neumann, Charlotte A M Cecil, Esther Walton, Lotte C Houtepen, Andrew J Simpkin, Jolien Rijlaarsdam, Bastiaan T Heijmans, Tom R Gaunt, Janine F Felix, Vincent W V Jaddoe, Marian J Bakermans-Kranenburg, Henning Tiemeier, Caroline L Relton, Marinus H van IJzendoorn, Matthew Suderman

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DNA methylation (DNAm) is known to play a pivotal role in childhood health and development, but a comprehensive characterization of genome-wide DNAm trajectories across this age period is currently lacking. We have therefore performed a series of epigenome-wide association studies in 5019 blood samples collected at multiple time-points from birth to late adolescence from 2348 participants of two large independent cohorts. DNAm profiles of autosomal CpG sites (CpGs) were generated using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip. Change over time was widespread, observed at over one-half (53%) of CpGs. In most cases, DNAm was decreasing (36% of CpGs). Inter-individual variation in linear trajectories was similarly widespread (27% of CpGs). Evidence for non-linear change and inter-individual variation in non-linear trajectories was somewhat less common (11 and 8% of CpGs, respectively). Very little inter-individual variation in change was explained by sex differences (0.4% of CpGs) even though sex-specific DNAm was observed at 5% of CpGs. DNAm trajectories were distributed non-randomly across the genome. For example, CpGs with decreasing DNAm were enriched in gene bodies and enhancers and were annotated to genes enriched in immune-developmental functions. In contrast, CpGs with increasing DNAm were enriched in promoter regions and annotated to genes enriched in neurodevelopmental functions. These findings depict a methylome undergoing widespread and often non-linear change throughout childhood. They support a developmental role for DNA methylation that extends beyond birth into late adolescence and has implications for understanding life-long health and disease. DNAm trajectories can be visualized at http://epidelta.mrcieu.ac.uk.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberddaa280
Pages (from-to)119-134
Number of pages16
JournalHuman Molecular Genetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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