The Placental Epigenome as a Molecular Link Between Prenatal Exposures and Fetal Health Outcomes Through the DOHaD Hypothesis


Purpose of review: The developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) hypothesis posits that the perinatal environment can impact fetal and later life health. The placenta is uniquely situated to assess prenatal exposures in the context of DOHaD because it is an essential ephemeral fetal organ that manages the transport of oxygen, nutrients, waste, and endocrine signals between the mother and fetus. The purpose of this review is to summarize recent studies that evaluated the DOHaD hypothesis in human placentas using epigenomics, including DNA methylation and transcriptomic studies of mRNA, lncRNA, and microRNAs. Recent findings: Between 2016 and 2021, 28 articles evaluated associations between prenatal exposures and placental epigenomics across broad exposure categories including maternal smoking, psychosocial stressors, chemicals, air pollution, and metals. Sixteen of these studies connected exposures to health outcome such as birth weight, fetal growth, or infant neurobehavior through mediation analysis, identification of shared associations between exposure and outcome, or network analysis. These aspects of infant and childhood health serve as a foundation for future studies that aim to use placental epigenetics to understand relationships between the prenatal environment and perinatal complications (such as preterm birth or fetal growth restriction) or later life childhood health. Placental DNA methylation and RNA expression have been linked to numerous prenatal exposures, such as PM2.5 air pollution, metals, and maternal smoking, as well as infant and childhood health outcomes, including fetal growth and birth weight. Placental epigenomics provides a unique opportunity to expand the DOHaD premise, particularly if research applies novel methodologies such as multi-omics analysis, sequencing of non-coding RNAs, mixtures analysis, and assessment of health outcomes beyond early childhood.

Authors: Samantha Lapehn, Alison G Paquette
; Full Source: Current environmental health reports 2022 Apr 29. doi: 10.1007/s40572-022-00354-8.