Maternal stress has been linked to infant birth weight outcomes, which itself may be associated with health later in life. The placenta acts as a master regulator for the fetal environment, mediating intrauterine exposures to stress through the activity of genes regulating glucocorticoids, including the 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (HSD11B) type 1 and 2 genes, and so we hypothesized that variation in these genes will be associated with infant birth weight. We investigated DNA methylation levels at six sites across the two genes, as well as mRNA expression for each, and the relationship to infant birth weight. Logistic regressions correcting for potential confounding factors revealed a significant association between methylation at a single CpG site within HSD11B1 and being born large for gestational age. In addition, our analysis identified correlations between methylation and gene expression, including sex-specific transcriptional regulation of HSD11B2. Our work is one of the first comprehensive views of DNA methylation and expression in the placenta for both HSD11B types 1 and 2, linking epigenetic alterations with the regulation of fetal stress and birth weight outcomes.
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