Association of prenatal organochlorine pesticide-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane exposure with fetal genome-wide DNA methylation

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To investigate whether intrauterine organochlorine pesticide (OCP)-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) exposure could lead to epigenetic alterations by DNA methylation with possible important lifetime health consequences for offspring.

Main methods:

We used Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation 450 K BeadChip to explore the pattern of genome-wide DNA methylation containing >485,000 gene sites in cord blood of 24 subjects in a 12 mother-newborn pairs birth cohort. Based on the genome-wide DNA methylation data, we chose one potential gene, BRCA1, to verify the results in another group comprising 126 subjects.

Key findings:

We identified 1,131 significantly different CpG sites which included 690 hypermethylation sites and 441 hypomethylation sites in the DNA methylation level between case and control group. The identified sites were located in 598 unique genes. In subsequent validation studies, we found that the DNA methylation level of the identified CpGs of BRCA1 increased with increased exposure to dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and the level of gene expression in the identified CpGs of BRCA1 decreased with increased exposure to dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT).


The results indicated that epigenetic processes played a possible role in the development of fetuses affected by maternal OCP-DDT exposure. Early prenatal exposure to DDT may affect fetal BRCA1 gene methylation, and increased exposure leads to a higher DNA methylation level and lower gene expression level.

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