STUDY QUESTION: Is there a difference in DNA methylation status of imprinted genes in placentas derived from IVF conceptions where embryo culture was performed in human tubal fluid (HTF) versus G5 culture medium?
SUMMARY ANSWER: We found no statistically significant differences in the mean DNA methylation status of differentially methylated regions (DMRs) associated with parentally imprinted genes in placentas derived from IVF conceptions cultured in HTF versus G5 culture medium.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Animal studies indicate that the embryo culture environment affects the DNA methylation status of the embryo. In humans, birthweight is known to be affected by the type of embryo culture medium used. The effect of embryo culture media on pregnancy, birth and child development may thus be mediated by differential methylation of parentally imprinted genes in the placenta.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: To identify differential DNA methylation of imprinted genes in human placenta derived from IVF conceptions exposed to HTF or G5 embryo culture medium, placenta samples (n = 43 for HTF, n = 54 for G5) were collected between 2010 and 2012 s as part of a multi-center randomized controlled trial in the Netherlands comparing these embryo culture media. Placenta samples from 69 naturally conceived (NC) live births were collected during 2008-2013 in the Netherlands as reference material.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: To identify differential DNA methylation of imprinted genes, we opted for an amplicon-based sequencing strategy on an Illumina MiSeq sequencing platform. DNA was isolated and 34 DMRs associated with well-defined parentally imprinted genes were amplified in a two-step PCR before sequencing using MiSeq technology. Sequencing data were analyzed in a multivariate fashion to eliminate possible confounding effects.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: We found no statistically significant differences in the mean DNA methylation status of any of the imprinted DMRs in placentas derived from IVF conceptions cultured in HTF or G5 culture medium. We also did not observe any differences in the mean methylation status per amplicon nor in the variance in methylation per amplicon between the two culture medium groups. A separate surrogate variable analysis also demonstrated that the IVF culture medium was not associated with the DNA methylation status of these DMRs. The mean methylation level and variance per CpG was equal between HTF and G5 placenta. Additional comparison of DNA methylation status of NC placenta samples revealed no statistically significant differences in mean amplicon and CpG methylation between G5, HTF and NC placenta; however, the number of placenta samples exhibiting outlier methylation levels was higher in IVF placenta compared to NC (P <0.00001). Also, we were able to identify 37 CpG sites that uniquely displayed outlier methylation in G5 placentas and 32 CpG sites that uniquely displayed outlier methylation in HTF. In 8/37 (G5) and 4/32 (HTF) unique outliers CpGs, a medium-specific unique outlier could be directly correlated to outlier methylation of the entire amplicon.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Due to practical reasons, not all placentas were collected during the trial, and we collected the placentas from natural conceptions from a different cohort, potentially creating bias. We limited ourselves to the DNA methylation status of 34 imprinted DMRs, and we studied only the placenta and no other embryo-derived tissues.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: It has often been postulated, but has yet to be rigorously tested, that imprinting mediates the effects of embryo culture conditions on pregnancy, birth and child development in humans. Since we did not detect any statistically significant effects of embryo culture conditions on methylation status of imprinted genes in the placenta, this suggests that other unexplored mechanisms may underlie these effects. The biological and clinical relevance of detected outliers with respect to methylation levels of CpGs and DMR require additional analysis in a larger sample size as well. Given the importance and the growing number of children born through IVF, research into these molecular mechanisms is urgently needed.
- embryo culture medium
- DNA methylation
- IN-VITRO FERTILIZATION
- EMBRYO CULTURE
- INCREASED RISK