Research ArticleHUMAN GENETICS

Establishment of environmentally sensitive DNA methylation states in the very early human embryo

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Science Advances  11 Jul 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 7, eaat2624
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat2624


The molecular mechanisms responsible for the developmental origins of later disease are currently unknown. We previously demonstrated that women’s periconceptional nutrition predicts their offspring’s DNA methylation at metastable epialleles (MEs). We present a genome-wide screen yielding 687 MEs and track their trajectories across nine developmental stages in human in vitro fertilization embryos. MEs exhibit highly unusual methylation dynamics across the implantation-gastrulation transition, producing a large excess of intermediate methylation states, suggesting the potential for differential programming in response to external signals. Using a natural experiment in rural Gambia, we show that genomic regions sensitive to season of conception are highly enriched for MEs and show similar atypical methylation patterns. MEs are enriched for proximal enhancers and transcription start sites and are influenced by genotype. Together, these observations position MEs as distinctive epigenomic features programmed in the early embryo, sensitive to genetic and periconceptional environment, and with the potential to influence phenotype.

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