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DNA Methylation: An Epigenetic Risk Factor in Preterm Birth

Abstract

Spontaneous preterm birth (PTB; birth prior to 37 weeks of gestation) is a complex phenotype with multiple risk factors that complicate our understanding of its etiology. A number of recent studies have supported the hypothesis that epigenetic modifications such as DNA methylation induced by pregnancy-related risk factors may influence the risk of PTB or result in changes that predispose a neonate to adult-onset diseases. The critical role of timing of gene expression in the etiology of PTB makes it a highly relevant disorder in which to examine the potential role of epigenetic changes. Because changes in DNA methylation patterns can result in long-term consequences, it is of critical interest to identify the epigenetic patterns associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. This review examines the potential role of DNA methylation as a risk factor for PTB and discusses several issues and limitations that should be considered when planning DNA methylation studies.

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Correspondence to Ramkumar Menon MS, PhD.

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Menon, R., Conneely, K.N. & Smith, A.K. DNA Methylation: An Epigenetic Risk Factor in Preterm Birth. Reprod. Sci. 19, 6–13 (2012) doi:10.1177/1933719111424446

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Keywords

  • prematurity
  • preterm labor
  • epigenetics
  • genetics
  • DNA