Prenatal Exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, Umbilical Cord Blood DNA Methylation, and Cardio-Metabolic Indicators in Newborns: The Healthy Start Study.

By Anne P Starling, Cuining Liu, Guannan Shen, Ivana V Yang, Katerina Kechris, Sarah J Borengasser, Kristen E Boyle, Weiming Zhang, Harry A Smith, Antonia M Calafat, Richard F Hamman, John L Adgate, and Dana Dabelea
Environ Health Perspect
December 29, 2020
DOI: 10.1289/EHP6888


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are environmentally persistent chemicals widely detected in women of reproductive age. Prenatal PFAS exposure is associated with adverse health outcomes in children. We hypothesized that DNA methylation changes may result from prenatal PFAS exposure and may be linked to offspring cardio-metabolic phenotype.


We estimated associations of prenatal PFAS with DNA methylation in umbilical cord blood. We evaluated associations of methylation at selected sites with neonatal cardio-metabolic indicators.


Among 583 mother-infant pairs in a prospective cohort, five PFAS were quantified in maternal serum (median 27 wk of gestation). Umbilical cord blood DNA methylation was evaluated using the Illumina HumanMethylation450 array. Differentially methylated positions (DMPs) were evaluated at a false discovery rate and differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were identified using comb-p (Šidák-adjusted ). We estimated associations between methylation at candidate DMPs and DMR sites and the following outcomes: newborn weight, adiposity, and cord blood glucose, insulin, lipids, and leptin.


Maternal serum PFAS concentrations were below the median for females in the U.S. general population. Moderate to high pairwise correlations were observed between PFAS concentrations (). Methylation at one DMP (cg18587484), annotated to the gene , was associated with perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) at . Comb-p detected between 4 and 15 DMRs for each PFAS. Associated genes, some common across multiple PFAS, were implicated in growth (), lipid homeostasis (, , , ), inflammation and immune activity (, ), among other functions. There was suggestive evidence that two PFAS-associated loci (cg09093485, cg09637273) were associated with cord blood triglycerides and birth weight, respectively ().


DNA methylation in umbilical cord blood was associated with maternal serum PFAS concentrations during pregnancy, suggesting potential associations with offspring growth, metabolism, and immune function. Future research should explore whether DNA methylation changes mediate associations between prenatal PFAS exposures and child health outcomes. 

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