Children born to women who have rheumatoid arthritis during pregnancy could experience life-long health effects due to changes to DNA that alter genetic activity, new research indicates.
In a study published in a recent Annals of Rheumatic Diseases issue, investigators found that these children have a different DNA methylation profile than those born to women without rheumatoid arthritis.
“Maternal rheumatoid arthritis during pregnancy is associated with differential DNA methylation in offspring,” said study author Hilal Ince-Askan, M.D., a rheumatologist with Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. “Maternal rheumatoid arthritis might have life-long consequences for the offspring.”
DNA methylation can occur early in pregnancy. And, the rheumatoid arthritis treatments sulfasalazine and corticosteroids, such as prednisone, affects interleukin-6 which is known to impact DNA methylation. This is the first study to investigate whether there are any DNA differences between these two groups.
To uncover any differences, researchers analyzed blood samples from 80 children born to women with rheumatoid arthritis and 354 children from the general population. They measured genome-wide DNA methylation at cytosine-phosphate-guanine sites, locations in the DNA that can be easily changed. According to results, 147 of these sites were significantly different in children to women with rheumatoid arthritis.
Of the five most affected sites, the most impacted has been associated with insulin sensitivity, heart failure, and diabetes in animals. The other sites also have associations with heart attack, atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, obesity, and diabetes mellitus type 2.
Still, researchers caution it remains unclear whether these associations are causal. They also could not determine whether the DNA methylation was cause by the rheumatoid arthritis disease itself or the treatment.
Based on these findings, investigators recommend the effects of rheumatoid arthritis disease activity and medication use on DNA methylation should be investigated further. Indications for future cardiovascular and metabolic disease should be considered, as well.
Ince-Askan H, Mandaviya P, Felix J, et al. "Alterned DNA methylation in children born to mothers with rheumatoid arthritis during pregnancy." Annals of Rheumatic Diseases (2019), doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2018-214930.