An epigenome-wide association study of child appetitive traits and DNA methylation.


The etiology of childhood appetitive traits is poorly understood. Early-life epigenetic processes may be involved in the developmental programming of appetite regulation in childhood. One such process is DNA methylation (DNAm), whereby a methyl group is added to a specific part of DNA, where a cytosine base is next to a guanine base, a CpG site. We meta-analyzed epigenome-wide association studies (EWASs) of cord blood DNAm and early-childhood appetitive traits. Data were from two independent cohorts: the Generation R Study (n = 1,086, Rotterdam, the Netherlands) and the Healthy Start study (n = 236, Colorado, USA). DNAm at autosomal methylation sites in cord blood was measured using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip. Parents reported on their child's food responsiveness, emotional undereating, satiety responsiveness and food fussiness using the Children's Eating Behaviour Questionnaire at age 4-5 years. Multiple regression models were used to examine the association of DNAm (predictor) at the individual site- and regional-level (using DMRff) with each appetitive trait (outcome), adjusting for covariates. Bonferroni-correction was applied to adjust for multiple testing. There were no associations of DNAm and any appetitive trait when examining individual CpG-sites. However, when examining multiple CpGs jointly in so-called differentially methylated regions, we identified 45 associations of DNAm with food responsiveness, 7 associations of DNAm with emotional undereating, 13 associations of DNAm with satiety responsiveness, and 9 associations of DNAm with food fussiness. This study shows that DNAm in the newborn may partially explain variation in appetitive traits expressed in early childhood and provides preliminary support for early programming of child appetitive traits through DNAm. Investigating differential DNAm associated with appetitive traits could be an important first step in identifying biological pathways underlying the development of these behaviors.





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Publication Info

Harris, Holly A, Chloe Friedman, Anne P Starling, Dana Dabelea, Susan L Johnson, Bernard F Fuemmeler, Dereje Jima, Susan K Murphy, et al. (2023). An epigenome-wide association study of child appetitive traits and DNA methylation. Appetite, 191. p. 107086. 10.1016/j.appet.2023.107086 Retrieved from

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Susan Kay Murphy

Associate Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology

Dr. Murphy is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and serves as Chief of the Division of Reproductive Sciences. As a molecular biologist with training in human epigenetics, her research interests are largely centered around the role of epigenetic modifications in health and disease. 

Dr. Murphy has ongoing projects on gynecologic malignancies, including approaches to eradicate ovarian cancer cells that survive chemotherapy and later give rise to recurrent disease. Dr. Murphy is actively involved in many collaborative projects relating to the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD).

Her lab is currently working on preconception environmental exposures in males, particularly on the impact of cannabis on the sperm epigenome and the potential heritability of these effects. They are also studying the epigenetic and health effects of in utero exposures, with primary focus on children from the Newborn Epigenetics STudy (NEST), a pregnancy cohort she co-founded who were recruited from central North Carolina between 2005 and 2011. Dr. Murphy and her colleagues continue to follow NEST children to determine relationships between prenatal exposures and later health outcomes.

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