Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Exposure Assessment of Metals in Birth Cohorts
Environmental exposures have long-term health consequences for intrauterine-exposed children, suggesting that these exposures contribute to the phenomenon of "fetal programming". Interactions between the environment and genes occurs in the placenta, a highly complex organ which serves as the site for nutrient, water, and waste exchange, immune-endocrine regulation, and environmental regulation between the mother and child. These effect are thought to be elicited molecularly as alterations to the cellular epigenome, although the precise molecular character of these changes has yet to be elucidated. In this collaborative project between Darmouth and Brown SRPs, the researchers are forming a new collaboration that greatly enhances the specific aims of their individual projects to test the hypothesis that environmental exposures lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes and this is mediated through epigenetic alterations in the placenta. The researchers aim to:
- Investigate epigenetic alterations (i.e., changes on a molecular-genetic level, including DNA methylation) related to arsenic exposure in a US population to gain a more complete understanding of the pathogenesis of arsenic-related disease in placenta tissue,
- Identify a signature of gene promoter methylation alterations in human placenta as novel biomarkers of preterm birth, fetal growth restriction, and environmental exposure using assays of phenotypically important DNA methylation, and
- To facilitate the examination of trace metals in biomaterials obtained from the Brown SRP and demonstrating the utility of laser ablation ICP-MS technology for the examination of biomarkers in population-based studies.
This collaborative project is made possible with the hiring of additional personnel who are responsible for obtaining and molecularly characterizing the placental samples both at Dartmough and at Brown and analyzing nail samples for arsenic exposure. By bringing together the powerful resources of birth cohorts being developed in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, the researchers have a unique opportunity to examine the molecular and phenotypic effects of environmental exposures on early life outcomes which can influence health in later life.