Neighborhood and Family Environment of Expectant Mothers May Influence Prenatal Programming of Adult Cancer Risk: Discussion and an Illustrative DNA Methylation Example.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Childhood stressors including physical abuse predict adult cancer risk. Prior research portrays this finding as an indirect mechanism that operates through coping behaviors, including adult smoking, or through increased toxic exposures during childhood. Little is known about potential direct causal mechanisms between early-life stressors and adult cancer. Because prenatal conditions can affect gene expression by altering DNA methylation, with implications for adult health, we hypothesize that maternal stress may program methylation of cancer-linked genes during gametogenesis. To illustrate this hypothesis, we related maternal social resources to methylation at the imprinted MEG3 differentially methylated regulatory region, which has been linked to multiple cancer types. Mothers (n = 489) from a diverse birth cohort (Durham, North Carolina) provided newborns' cord blood and completed a questionnaire. Newborns of currently married mothers showed lower (-0.321 SD, p < .05) methylation compared to newborns of never-married mothers, who did not differ from newborns whose mothers were cohabiting and others (adjusted for demographics). MEG3 DNA methylation levels were also lower when maternal grandmothers co-resided before pregnancy (-0.314 SD, p < .05). A 1-SD increase in prenatal neighborhood disadvantage also predicted higher methylation (-0.137 SD, p < .05). In conclusion, we found that maternal social resources may result in differential methylation of MEG3, which demonstrates a potential partial mechanism priming socially disadvantaged newborns for later risk of some cancers.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • King, KE; Kane, JB; Scarbrough, P; Hoyo, C; Murphy, SK

Published Date

  • 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 62 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 87 - 104

PubMed ID

  • 27050035

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC4851425

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1948-5573

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/19485565.2015.1126501


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States