Human airways have sex-based DNA methylation signatures at birth, providing evidence of why males are more prone to respiratory disorders than females, particularly during early life, according to a new study.
The results provide an early hint of which infants may be predisposed to develop respiratory disorders, such as asthma, later in life.
Boys and young men are more likely to develop neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, viral bronchiolitis, pneumonia, croup, and childhood asthma. Unlike boys, girls have two copies of the X chromosome, which is enriched with immune-related genes. Methylation prevents excessive gene activity in X-linked genes, noted researchers led by Cesar L. Nino, PhD, of Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia.
The researchers published their results on April 3, 2018, in Scientific Reports.
“Characterizing early airway methylation signatures holds the promise of clarifying the nature of gender-based disparities in respiratory disorders and could usher in more personalized diagnostic and therapeutic approaches,” said senior author Gustavo Nino, MD, of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC.
The researchers investigated epigenetic differences in the airways of males and females during early life using genome-wide DNA methylation arrays. They compared male vs female genome-wide DNA methylation in nasal airway samples from 12 newborns and infants aged 1 to 6 months. Half of the infants were born preterm, and half were born full term.
Nino CL, Perez GF, Isaza N, et al. Characterization of sex-based DNA methylation signatures in the airways during early life. Sci Rep. 2018;8.