Early epigenetic switches associated with childhood bone health

May 10, 2017, University of Southampton

The health of children's bones could be determined before they are born, a new University of Southampton study has shown.

Researchers from the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and the Institute of Developmental Sciences at the University of Southampton, as part of the Epigen Global Consortium, looked at whether might be influenced by of DNA early in life.

The results, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, provide an insight into the early determinants of skeletal growth, and improve the understanding of how osteoporosis could be prevented in future generations.

There is growing evidence that whether genes are expressed or not (switched on or off) in particular human cells can change throughout life and can be affected by a range of environmental factors even before birth, such as their parents' health, diet and lifestyle before and during pregnancy. This switching on or off of genes is known as "epigenetic modification" and an important epigenetic mechanism is DNA methylation.

The Southampton researchers analysed the levels of DNA methylation in umbilical cord tissue of 669 babies born in the Southampton Women's Survey.

They compared the DNA methylation levels in the CDKN2A gene to the of the child at four and six years of age, measured using DXA densitometry. They found that higher DNA methylation in particular parts of the CDKN2A gene, which is known to play a role in development and ageing, was associated with lower bone mass at four and six years.

Analysis showed that a 10 percent increase in methylation was associated with a decrease in total bone mass of around 4-9g at age four years. Further laboratory analysis showed that methylation of the CDKN2A region is important for the function and survival of .

Nicholas Harvey, Professor of Rheumatology and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Southampton, led the study with Dr Elizabeth Curtis, Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow, and Dr Robert Murray, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, both also from the University.

He said: "The health of a child's bone when they are young can influence the risk of osteoporosis in older age. This study provides exciting insights into the role of epigenetics in bone health, and might allow us to more accurately predict an individual's future risk of osteoporosis. Our ongoing studies should enable us to work out whether interventions during pregnancy, for example vitamin D supplementation, will actually alter the epigenetic marks, and lead to improved bone in the offspring."

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, said: "This major finding links our previous observations on maternal nutrition and lifestyle during pregnancy, with the later risk of musculoskeletal ageing in the offspring. It bears testimony to the value of large, well-maintained population cohorts, participants among whom are followed up for many years."

Explore further: Risk of obesity influenced by changes in our genes

More information: Elizabeth M Curtis et al. Perinatal DNA methylation atis associated with offspring bone mass: Findings from the Southampton Women's Survey, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research (2017). DOI: 10.1002/jbmr.3153

Related Stories

Risk of obesity influenced by changes in our genes

April 25, 2017
These changes, known as epigenetic modifications, control the activity of our genes without changing the actual DNA sequence. One of the main epigenetic modifications is DNA methylation, which plays a key role in embryonic ...

New study shows vitamin D-related 'molecular switches' predict childhood bone mass

August 15, 2013
Researchers at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, have demonstrated that the degree to which a gene related to vitamin D action is switched on or off, when measured at birth, predicts bone density ...

Placenta size and offspring bone development linked

May 3, 2016
Researchers at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, studied 518 children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) who underwent bone scans at nine, 15 ...

Pregnancy vitamin D supplementation may help winter baby's bones

March 1, 2016
Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy may lead to stronger bones in babies born during the winter months, a new Southampton study has shown.

Limiting polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in pregnancy may influence body fat of children, researchers find

January 10, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Southampton researchers have demonstrated that mothers who have higher levels of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are found in cooking oils and nuts, during pregnancy have fatter children.

Stronger muscles make for healthier bone development

April 14, 2015
Scientists at the University of Southampton have shown that higher muscle mass is strongly linked with healthier bone development in children.Researchers also found no relationship between fat mass and bone development, indicating ...

Recommended for you

Thousands of unknown DNA changes in the developing brain revealed by machine learning

September 24, 2018
Unlike most cells in the rest of our body, the DNA (the genome) in each of our brain cells is not the same: it varies from cell to cell, caused by somatic changes. This could explain many mysteries—from the cause of Alzheimer's ...

Mitochondrial diseases could be treated with gene therapy, study suggests

September 24, 2018
Researchers have developed a genome editing tool for the potential treatment of mitochondrial diseases: serious and often fatal conditions which affect 1 in 5,000 people.

How to edit your mitochondria

September 24, 2018
Mitochondrial genetic engineering is the adaptation of genetic engineering techniques to specific mitochondrial problems. Although it is not common to be born with severe mitochondrial issues, we will all eventually have ...

Height may be risk factor for varicose veins, study finds

September 24, 2018
The taller you are, the more likely you are to develop varicose veins, according to a study led by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers that examined the genes of more than 400,000 people in search of clues ...

Researchers identify new genetic disorder

September 21, 2018
Researchers from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and physicians from Spectrum Health have identified for the first time in a human patient a genetic disorder only previously described in animal models.

Test could detect patients at risk from lethal fungal spores

September 20, 2018
Scientists at The University of Manchester have discovered a genetic mutation in humans linked to a 17-fold increase in the amount of dangerous fungal spores in the lungs.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.