Identification of sex-specific DNA methylation changes driven by specific chemicals in cord blood in a Faroese birth cohort
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Faroe islanders consume marine foods contaminated with methylmercury (MeHg), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other toxicants associated with chronic disease risks. Differential DNA methylation at specific CpG sites in cord blood may serve as a surrogate biomarker of health impacts from chemical exposures. We aimed to identify key environmental chemicals in cord blood associated with DNA methylation changes in a population with elevated exposure to chemical mixtures. We studied 72 participants of a Faroese birth cohort recruited between 1986 and 1987 and followed until adulthood. The cord blood DNA methylome was profiled using Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChips. We determined the associations of CpG site changes with concentrations of MeHg, major PCBs, other organochlorine compounds [hexachlorobenzene (HCB), p,p’-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p’-DDE) and p,p’-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane], and perfluoroalkyl substances. In a combined sex analysis, among the 16 chemicals studied, PCB congener 105 (CB-105) exposure was associated with the majority of differentially methylated CpG sites (214 out of a total of 250). In female-only analysis, only 73 CB-105 associated CpG sites were detected, 44 of which were mapped to genes in the ELAV1-associated cancer network. In males-only, methylation changes were seen for perfluorooctane sulfonate, HCB, and p,p’-DDE in 10,598, 1,238, and 1,473 CpG sites, respectively, 15% of which were enriched in cytobands of the X-chromosome associated with neurological disorders. In this multiple-pollutant and genome-wide study, we identified key epigenetic toxicants. The significant enrichment of specific X-chromosome sites in males implies potential sex-specific epigenome responses to prenatal chemical exposures.