UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Prenatal Adversity Alters the Epigenetic Profile of the Prefrontal Cortex: Sexually Dimorphic Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Food-Related Stress Lussier, Alexandre A.; Bodnar, Tamara; Moksa, Michelle; Hirst, Martin; Kobor, Michael S. (Geneticist); Weinberg, Joanne


Prenatal adversity or stress can have long-term consequences on developmental trajectories and health outcomes. Although the biological mechanisms underlying these effects are poorly understood, epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation, have the potential to link early-life environments to alterations in physiological systems, with long-term functional implications. We investigated the consequences of two prenatal insults, prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and food-related stress, on DNA methylation profiles of the rat brain during early development. As these insults can have sex-specific effects on biological outcomes, we analyzed epigenome-wide DNA methylation patterns in prefrontal cortex, a key brain region involved in cognition, executive function, and behavior, of both males and females. We found sex-dependent and sex-concordant influences of these insults on epigenetic patterns. These alterations occurred in genes and pathways related to brain development and immune function, suggesting that PAE and food-related stress may reprogram neurobiological/physiological systems partly through central epigenetic changes, and may do so in a sex-dependent manner. Such epigenetic changes may reflect the sex-specific effects of prenatal insults on long-term functional and health outcomes and have important implications for understanding possible mechanisms underlying fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

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