In experimental animals, maternal diet during the periconceptional period influences the establishment of DNA methylation at metastable epialleles in the offspring, with permanent phenotypic consequences. Pronounced naturally occurring seasonal differences in the diet of rural Gambian women allowed us to test this in humans. We show that significant seasonal variations in methyl-donor nutrient intake of mothers around the time of conception influence 13 relevant plasma biomarkers. The level of several of these maternal biomarkers predicts increased/decreased methylation at metastable epialleles in DNA extracted from lympho- cytes and hair follicles in infants postnatally. Our results demonstrate that maternal nutri- tional status during early pregnancy causes persistent and systemic epigenetic changes at human metastable epialleles.
© 2000 Todd Shapera, Courtesy of Photoshare