At age 9, the methylome of assisted reproductive technology children that underwent embryo culture in different media is not significantly different on a genome-wide scale

Rebekka M Koeck, Florence Busato, Jorg Tost, Heleen Zandstra, Sylvie Remy, Sabine Langie, Marij Gielen, Ron van Golde, John C M Dumoulin, Han Brunner, Masoud Zamani Esteki*, Aafke P A van Montfoort*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


STUDY QUESTION: Can we detect DNA methylation differences between ART children that underwent embryo culture in different media?

SUMMARY ANSWER: We identified no significant differences in site-specific or regional DNA methylation between the different culture medium groups.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Embryo culture in G3 or K-SICM medium leads to differences in embryonic, neonatal and childhood outcomes, including growth and weight. The methylome may mediate this association as the period of in vitro culture of ART treatments coincides with epigenetic reprogramming.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This study was conducted as a follow-up to a previous culture medium comparison study in which couples were pseudo-randomized to embryo culture in G3 or K-SICM medium. Of the resultant singletons, 120 (n = 65 G3, n = 55 K-SICM), were recruited at age 9.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: The ART children provided a saliva sample from which the methylome was analysed using the Infinium MethylationEPIC array. After quality and context filtering, 106 (n = 57 G3, n = 49 K-SICM) samples and 659 708 sites were retained for the analyses. Differential methylation analyses were conducted using mixed effects linear models corrected for age, sex, sample plate and cell composition. These were applied to all cytosine-guanine dinucleotide (CpG) sites, various genomic regions (genes, promoters, CpG Islands (CGIs)) and as a targeted analysis of imprinted genes and birth weight-associated CpG sites. Differential variance was assessed using the improved epigenetic variable outliers for risk prediction analysis (iEVORA) algorithm and methylation outliers were identified using a previously defined threshold (upper or lower quartile plus or minus three times the interquartile range, respectively).

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: After correcting for multiple testing, we did not identify any significantly differentially methylated CpG sites, genes, promoters or CGIs between G3 and K-SICM children despite a lenient corrected P-value threshold of 0.1. Targeted analyses of (sites within) imprinted genes and birth weight-associated sites also did not identify any significant differences. The number of DNA methylation outliers per sample was comparable between the culture medium groups. iEVORA identified 101 differentially variable CpG sites of which 94 were more variable in the G3 group.

LARGE SCALE DATA: Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) GSE196432.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: To detect significant methylation differences with a magnitude of <10% between the groups many more participants would be necessary; however, the clinical relevance of such small differences is unclear.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: The results of this study are reassuring, suggesting that if there is an effect of the culture medium on DNA methylation (and methylation-mediated diseases risk), it does not differ between the two media investigated here. The findings concur with other methylome studies of ART neonates and children that underwent embryo culture in different media, which also found no significant methylome differences.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): Study funded by March of Dimes (6-FY13-153), EVA (Erfelijkheid Voortplanting & Aanleg) specialty programme (grant no. KP111513) of Maastricht University Medical Centre (MUMC+) and the Horizon 2020 innovation (ERIN) (grant no. EU952516) of the European Commission. The authors do not report any conflicts of interest relevant to this study.

TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: Dutch Trial register-NL4083.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2709-2721
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number11
Early online date7 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2022

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