Neighborhood and Family Environment of Expectant Mothers May Influence Prenatal Programming of Adult Cancer Risk

Katherine King, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Duke University
Jennifer Buher Kane, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Peter Scarbrough, Duke University
Cathrine Hoyo, Duke University
Susan Murphy, Duke University

Childhood stressors predict cancer risk in adults. Prior research portrays this finding as indirect either through coping behaviors or increased toxic exposures. Little is known about potential direct causal mechanisms between early-life stressors and adult cancer. Because prenatal conditions can affect gene expression by altering DNA methylation with implications for adult health, we hypothesize that maternal stress may program methylation of cancer-linked genes during gametogenesis. To illustrate, we relate maternal social resources to methylation at the imprinted MEG3 DMR linked to multiple cancer types in a diverse pre-birth cohort (n=489) from Durham, North Carolina. Newborns of currently-married mothers show significantly lower methylation compared to newborns of never-married mothers, as do those whose maternal grandmothers lived with the mother before pregnancy. Prenatal neighborhood disadvantage predicts higher methylation. Maternal social resources may result in differential methylation of MEG3, potentially priming socially disadvantaged newborns for later risk of some cancers.

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Presented in Session 21: Genetic Risk and Family, Environment and the Life Course