Small-magnitude effect sizes in epigenetic end points are important in children’s environmental health studies: The children’s environmental health and disease prevention research center’s epigenetics working group

Carrie V. Breton, Carmen J. Marsit, Elaine Faustman, Kari Nadeau, Jaclyn M. Goodrich, Dana C. Dolinoy, Julie Herbstman, Nina Holland, Janine M LaSalle, Rebecca Jean Schmidt, Paul Yousefi, Frederica Perera, Bonnie R. Joubert, Joseph Wiemels, Michele Taylor, Ivana V. Yang, Rui Chen, Kinjal M. Hew, Deborah M. Hussey Freeland, Rachel MillerSusan K. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

89 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Characterization of the epigenome is a primary interest for children’s environmental health researchers studying the environmental influences on human populations, particularly those studying the role of pregnancy and early-life exposures on later-in-life health outcomes. Objectives: Our objective was to consider the state of the science in environmental epigenetics research and to focus on DNA methylation and the collective observations of many studies being conducted within the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers, as they relate to the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis. Methods: We address the current laboratory and statistical tools available for epigenetic analyses, discuss methods for validation and interpretation of findings, particularly when magnitudes of effect are small, question the functional relevance of findings, and discuss the future for environmental epigenetics research. Discussion: A common finding in environmental epigenetic studies is the small-magnitude epigenetic effect sizes that result from such exposures. Although it is reasonable and necessary that we question the relevance of such small effects, we present examples in which small effects persist and have been replicated across populations and across time. We encourage a critical discourse on the interpretation of such small changes and further research on their functional relevance for children’s health. Conclusion: The dynamic nature of the epigenome will require an emphasis on future longitudinal studies in which the epigenome is profiled over time, over changing environmental exposures, and over generations to better understand the multiple ways in which the epigenome may respond to environmental stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-526
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Volume125
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

Cite this

Breton, C. V., Marsit, C. J., Faustman, E., Nadeau, K., Goodrich, J. M., Dolinoy, D. C., Herbstman, J., Holland, N., LaSalle, J. M., Schmidt, R. J., Yousefi, P., Perera, F., Joubert, B. R., Wiemels, J., Taylor, M., Yang, I. V., Chen, R., Hew, K. M., Hussey Freeland, D. M., ... Murphy, S. K. (2017). Small-magnitude effect sizes in epigenetic end points are important in children’s environmental health studies: The children’s environmental health and disease prevention research center’s epigenetics working group. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(4), 511-526. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP595