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Sex-based disparities in DNA methylation and gene expression in late-gestation mouse placentas.

BACKGROUND: The placenta is vital for fetal development and its contributions to various developmental issues, such as pregnancy complications, fetal growth restriction, and maternal exposure, have been extensively studied in mice. The placenta forms mainly from fetal tissue and therefore has the same biological sex as the fetus it supports. Extensive research has delved into the placenta's involvement in pregnancy complications and future offspring development, with a notable emphasis on exploring sex-specific disparities. However, despite these investigations, sex-based disparities in epigenetic (e.g., DNA methylation) and transcriptomic features of the late-gestation mouse placenta remain largely unknown.

METHODS: We collected male and female mouse placentas at late gestation (E18.5, n = 3/sex) and performed next-generation sequencing to identify genome-wide sex differences in transcription and DNA methylation.

RESULTS: Our comparison between male and female revealed 358 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) on autosomes, which were associated with signaling pathways involved in transmembrane transport and the responses to viruses and external stimuli. X chromosome DEGs (n = 39) were associated with different pathways, including those regulating chromatin modification and small GTPase-mediated signal transduction. Differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were more common on the X chromosomes (n = 3756) than on autosomes (n = 1705). Interestingly, while most X chromosome DMRs had higher DNA methylation levels in female placentas and tended to be included in CpG dinucleotide-rich regions, 73% of autosomal DMRs had higher methylation levels in male placentas and were distant from CpG-rich regions. Several DEGs were correlated with DMRs. A subset of the DMRs present in late-stage placentas were already established in mid-gestation (E10.5) placentas (n = 348 DMRs on X chromosome and 19 DMRs on autosomes), while others were acquired later in placental development.

CONCLUSION: Our study provides comprehensive lists of DEGs and DMRs between male and female that collectively cause profound differences in the DNA methylation and gene expression profiles of late-gestation mouse placentas. Our results demonstrate the importance of incorporating sex-specific analyses into epigenetic and transcription studies to enhance the accuracy and comprehensiveness of their conclusions and help address the significant knowledge gap regarding how sex differences influence placental function.

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