Abstract / Description of output

BACKGROUND: Preterm birth is closely associated with a phenotype that includes brain dysmaturation and neurocognitive impairment, commonly termed Encephalopathy of Prematurity (EoP), of which systemic inflammation is considered a key driver. DNA methylation (DNAm) signatures of inflammation from peripheral blood associate with poor brain imaging outcomes in adult cohorts. However, the robustness of DNAm inflammatory scores in infancy, their relation to comorbidities of preterm birth characterised by inflammation, neonatal neuroimaging metrics of EoP, and saliva cross-tissue applicability are unknown.

METHODS: Using salivary DNAm from 258 neonates (n = 155 preterm, gestational age at birth 23.28 - 34.84 weeks, n = 103 term, gestational age at birth 37.00 - 42.14 weeks), we investigated the impact of a DNAm surrogate for C-reactive protein (DNAm CRP) on brain structure and other clinically defined inflammatory exposures. We assessed i) if DNAm CRP estimates varied between preterm infants at term equivalent age and term infants, ii) how DNAm CRP related to different types of inflammatory exposure (maternal, fetal and postnatal) and iii) whether elevated DNAm CRP associated with poorer measures of neonatal brain volume and white matter connectivity.

RESULTS: Higher DNAm CRP was linked to preterm status (-0.0107 ± 0.0008, compared with -0.0118 ± 0.0006 among term infants; p < 0.001), as well as perinatal inflammatory diseases, including histologic chorioamnionitis, sepsis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and necrotising enterocolitis (OR range |2.00 | to |4.71|, p < 0.01). Preterm infants with higher DNAm CRP scores had lower brain volume in deep grey matter, white matter, and hippocampi and amygdalae (β range |0.185| to |0.218|). No such associations were observed for term infants. Association magnitudes were largest for measures of white matter microstructure among preterms, where elevated epigenetic inflammation associated with poorer global measures of white matter integrity (β range |0.206| to |0.371|), independent of other confounding exposures.

CONCLUSIONS: Inflammatory-related DNAm captures the allostatic load of inflammatory burden in preterm infants. Such DNAm measures complement biological and clinical metrics when investigating the determinants of neurodevelopmental differences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-338
Number of pages17
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • DNA methylation
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Encephalopathy of Prematurity
  • Epigenetics
  • Inflammation
  • Multiomics
  • Necrotizing Enterocolitis
  • Neonatal Sepsis
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Perinatal
  • Preterm Birth
  • White Matter


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