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Large-scale placenta DNA methylation integrated analysis reveals fetal sex-specific differentially methylated CpG sites and regions


Although male-female differences in placental structure and function have been observed, little is understood about their molecular underpinnings. Here, we present a mega-analysis of 14 publicly available placenta DNA methylation (DNAm) microarray datasets to identify individual CpGs and regions associated with fetal sex. In the discovery dataset of placentas from full term pregnancies (N = 532 samples), 5212 CpGs met genome-wide significance (p < 1E-8) and were enriched in pathways such as keratinization (FDR p-value = 7.37E-14), chemokine activity (FDR p-value = 1.56E-2), and eosinophil migration (FDR p-value = 1.83E-2). Nine differentially methylated regions were identified (fwerArea < 0.1) including a region in the promoter of ZNF300 that showed consistent differential DNAm in samples from earlier timepoints in pregnancy and appeared to be driven predominately by effects in the trophoblast cell type. We describe the largest study of fetal sex differences in placenta DNAm performed to date, revealing genes and pathways characterizing sex-specific placenta function and health outcomes later in life.

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