DNA methylation in the human placenta and fetal growth (Review)
- Ourania Koukoura
- Stavros Sifakis
- Demetrios A. Spandidos
- Corresponding author:
Published online on: Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Copyright: © Koukoura et al.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of
a Creative Commons Attribution License.
Throughout in utero development, the placenta plays a key role in controlling growth and development. The placenta acts not only as a gatekeeper of nutrient and waste exchange between mother and developing fetus, but also as a regulator of the intrauterine environment. Its functions can be influenced by the environment encountered throughout pregnancy, thereby altering the appropriate genetic programming needed to allow for appropriate fetal growth. Epigenetic alterations related to environmental exposures have been linked to aberrant fetal growth. DNA methylation, which is the best known DNA epigenetic modification, may provide an attractive mechanism linking environmental cues to placental pathology, with consequences for fetal growth and adult life. Alteration of the methylation patterns of genes expressed in the placenta has recently been found to modify gene expression and subsequently impair function of the placenta. Although there is strong evidence to demonstrate that the environment can affect the pattern of DNA methylation of the placenta during fetal development, a direct association between environmental conditions, methylation alterations and gene expression is difficult to confirm. DNA methylation in the placenta has mainly been investigated in the context of imprinted and non-imprinted genes transcription. Several environmental factors have also been assessed in regard to their association with changes to the epigenetic motives of embryonic and extraembryonic tissues and their impact on pregnancy outcome. In this review, we briefly present the available evidence regarding the role of DNA methylation patterns of the placenta on aberrant fetal growth.