UBC Faculty Research and Publications

A cross-cohort analysis of autosomal DNA methylation sex differences in the term placenta Inkster, Amy; Yuan, Victor; Konwar, Chaini; Matthews, Allison; Brown, Carolyn J.; Robinson, Wendy P.


Background Human placental DNA methylation (DNAme) data is a valuable resource for studying sex differences during gestation, as DNAme profiles after delivery reflect the cumulative effects of gene expression patterns and exposures across gestation. Here, we present an analysis of sex differences in autosomal DNAme in the uncomplicated term placenta (n = 343) using the Illumina 450K array. Results At a false discovery rate < 0.05 and a mean sex difference in DNAme beta value of > 0.10, we identified 162 autosomal CpG sites that were differentially methylated by sex and replicated in an independent cohort of samples (n = 293). Several of these differentially methylated CpG sites were part of larger correlated regions of sex differential DNAme. Although global DNAme levels did not differ by sex, the majority of significantly differentially methylated CpGs were more highly methylated in male placentae, the opposite of what is seen in differential methylation analyses of somatic tissues. Patterns of autosomal DNAme at these 162 CpGs were significantly associated with maternal age (in males) and newborn birthweight standard deviation (in females). Conclusions Our results provide a comprehensive analysis of sex differences in autosomal DNAme in the term human placenta. We report a list of high-confidence autosomal sex-associated differentially methylated CpGs and identify several key features of these loci that suggest their relevance to sex differences observed in normative and complicated pregnancies.

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