Prepregnancy maternal obesity is associated with adverse outcomes for the offspring, including increased incidence of neonatal bacterial sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis. We recently reported that umbilical cord blood (UCB) monocytes from babies born to obese mothers generate a reduced IL-6/TNF-α response to TLR 1/2 and 4 ligands compared to those collected from lean mothers. These observations suggest altered development of the offspring?s immune system, which in turn results in dysregulated function. We therefore investigated transcriptional and epigenetic differences within UCB monocytes stratified by prepregnancy maternal body mass index. We show that UCB monocytes from babies born to obese mothers generate a dampened response to LPS stimulation compared with those born to lean mothers, at the level of secreted immune mediators and transcription. Because gene expression profiles of resting UCB monocytes from both groups were comparable, we next investigated the role of epigenetic differences. Indeed, we detected stark differences in methylation levels within promoters and regulatory regions of genes involved in TLR signaling in resting UCB monocytes. Interestingly, the DNA methylation status of resting cells was highly predictive of transcriptional changes post-LPS stimulation, suggesting that cytosine methylation is one of the dominant mechanisms driving functional inadequacy in UCB monocytes obtained from babies born to obese mothers. These data highlight a potentially critical role of maternal pregravid obesity-associated epigenetic changes in influencing the function of an offspring?s monocytes at birth. These findings further our understanding of mechanisms that explain the increased risk of infection in neonates born to mothers with high prepregnancy body mass index.
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