Impact of intrauterine exposure to maternal diabetes on preterm birth: fetal DNA methylation alteration is an important mediator

Guoying Wang, Richard Xu, Boyang Zhang, Xiumei Hong, Tami R. Bartell, Colleen Pearson, Liming Liang, Xiaobin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In utero exposure to diabetes has been shown to contribute to preterm birth, though the underlying biological mechanisms are yet to be fully elucidated. Fetal epigenetic variations established in utero may be a possible pathway. This study aimed to investigate whether in utero exposure to diabetes was associated with a change in newborn DNA methylation, and whether the identified CpG sites mediate the association between diabetes and preterm birth in a racially diverse birth cohort population. Methods: This study included 954 mother–newborn pairs. Methylation levels in the cord blood were determined using the Illumina Infinium MethylationEPIC BeadChip 850 K array platform. In utero exposure to diabetes was defined by the presence of maternal pregestational or gestational diabetes. Preterm birth was defined as gestational age at birth less than 37 weeks. Linear regression analysis was employed to identify differentially methylated CpG sites. Differentially methylated regions were identified using the DMRcate Package. Results: 126 (13%) newborns were born to mothers with diabetes in pregnancy and 173 (18%) newborns were born preterm, while 41 newborns were born both preterm and to mothers with diabetes in pregnancy. Genomic-wide CpG analysis found that eighteen CpG sites in cord blood were differentially methylated by maternal diabetes status at an FDR threshold of 5%. These significant CpG sites were mapped to 12 known genes, one of which was annotated to gene Major Histocompatibility Complex, Class II, DM Beta (HLA-DMB). Consistently, one of the two identified significant methylated regions overlapped with HLA-DMB. The identified differentially methylated CpG sites mediated the association between diabetes in pregnancy and preterm birth by 61%. Conclusions: In this US birth cohort, we found that maternal diabetes was associated with altered fetal DNA methylation patterns, which substantially explained the link between diabetes and preterm birth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number59
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Cord blood
  • DNA methylation
  • Diabetes
  • In utero
  • Preterm birth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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