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Rewriting Epigenetics

Smoking during pregnancy may lead to epigenetic changes in the newborn, researchers from Norway and the US report in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The team conducted an epigenome-wide association study examining whether there were changes to DNA methylation in infants exposed to tobacco smoke in utero. In their cohort of 889 mothers, 287 of whom smoked, the researchers homed in on 186 CpG sites with altered methylation in the newborns whose mothers smoked. These sites include some 10 genes, including FRMD4A, ATP9A, GALNT2, and MEG3, that have been linked to nicotine dependence, the ability to quit smoking, and placental and embryonic development, the researchers note.

"If maternal smoking can alter the DNA methylation profile of newborns, other environmental exposures to chemicals, such as those found in the air, our homes and food, during pregnancy may also have epigenetic effects," first author Christina Markunas and senior author Allen Wilcox of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences say in an email to Science. "We have only scratched the surface of how exposures during pregnancy might affect the baby."