DOI: 10.1093/eep/dvae003 ISSN: 2058-5888

Exposure to air pollution is associated with DNA methylation changes in sperm

Rose Schrott, Jason I Feinberg, Craig J Newschaffer, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Lisa A Croen, M Daniele Fallin, Heather E Volk, Christine Ladd-Acosta, Andrew P Feinberg
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Genetics (clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology


Exposure to air pollutants has been associated with adverse health outcomes in adults and children who were prenatally exposed. In addition to reducing exposure to air pollutants, it is important to identify their biologic targets in order to mitigate the health consequences of exposure. One molecular change associated with prenatal exposure to air pollutants is DNA methylation (DNAm), which has been associated with changes in placenta and cord blood tissues at birth. However, little is known about how air pollution exposure impacts the sperm epigenome, which could provide important insights into mechanism of transmission to offspring. In the present study, we explored whether exposure to particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), PM10, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), or ozone (O3) was associated with DNAm in sperm contributed by participants in the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI) prospective pregnancy cohort. Air pollution exposure measurements were calculated as the average exposure for each pollutant measured within four weeks prior to the date of sample collection. Using array-based genome-scale methylation analyses we identified 80, 96, 35, and 67 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) significantly associated with PM2.5, PM10, NO2, and O3, respectively. While no DMRs were associated with exposure to all four pollutants, we found that genes overlapping exposure-related DMRs had a shared enrichment for gene ontology biological processes related to neurodevelopment. Together, these data provide compelling support for the hypothesis that paternal exposure to air pollution impacts DNAm in sperm, particularly at regions implicated in neurodevelopment.

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