Epigenetic effects are reported for prenatal environmental exposures such as lead (Pb), pesticides, bisphenol A, and stress and nutrient deficiencies, such as folate or iron deficiency (ID). Most studies consider single exposures. However, exposure to mixtures of environmental toxicants, nutrient deficiencies or harmful dietary additives, and stressors is common. This pilot study will explore epigenetic changes and neurodevelopmental outcome with real-life prenatal exposures (mixtures of pesticides, Pb, and ID). The overarching hypothesis is that exposure mixtures are associated with changes in offspring DNA methylation patterns of key neurodevelopmental genes/pathways related to poorer neurocognitive function later in life. The pilot study builds on NIH-funded projects on neurodevelopmental impacts of pre- and postnatal environmental exposures and ID, involving cohorts from rural areas near Beijing and Hangzhou, China (2000 full-term infants). The infant studies share the same brain-behavior conceptual framework. Parent study measures of environmental exposures, iron status, growth, behavior, sensory systems, and motor and cognitive function were collected at birth/6 weeks, 9 and 18 months. Over 200 pesticides are assayed in cord blood. Cord blood samples have been saved frozen for genetic analyses. To identify epigenetically modified genes related to exposures and neurodevelopment, we propose a genome-wide DNA methylation approach, with the following Specific Aims: 1) To demonstrate feasibility of epigenetic studies using Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip analysis in these cohorts in China;2) To identify genome-wide DNA methylation changes associated with prenatal exposure mixtures;and 3) To identify epigenetic changes that may mediate the association of exposures with markers of neurodevelopment. In selecting 96 cord-blood samples from each cohort for DNA- methylation studies (total n = 192), we prioritized unique features of the parent study designs: highly sophisticated, innovative brain-based measures for Hangzhou and environmental exposure measurement during pregnancy for Beijing. We chose specific outcomes where neural processes are well-characterized in animal models: ABR (myelination), recognition memory with ERP (hippocampus), and sequence learning (basal ganglia). Per China regulations, epigenetic assays will be conducted in China. Bioinformatic and biostatistical data analysis and interpretation will occur at the University of Michigan. We plan future studies using the entire pool of 2000 infants to disentangle epigenetic modifications with pesticides, Pb, and ID;consider exposure timing;validate DNA methylation profiles quantitatively;and determine epigenetic-exposure- outcome relations that can be modified by nutritional intervention, with iron supplementation as an illustration.
Cognitive and social-emotional impairments are a pressing public health concern, as they compromise school and job performance and personal relationships in millions of individuals in the US and globally, and understanding early origins of such impairments and identifying potentially modifiable factors are a high priority. This pilot study uses two birth cohorts with rich exposure and outcome data to identify epigenetic patterns mediating the interaction of environmental exposure mixtures, iron deficiency, and neurodevelopmental outcome. The findings of this and future full-scale studies may point to avenues for intervention to prevent or ameliorate adverse neurodevelopmental effects of real-life prenatal exposure mixtures and nutrient deficiencies.