The effect of season of birth on brain epigenome-wide DNA methylation of older adults

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Perinatal light exposure predisposes towards health and behaviour in adulthood. Season of birth is associated with psychiatric, allergic, cardiovascular and metabolic problems. It has been proposed that early-life environmental light disrupts the development of biological rhythms which, in turn, influence later-life health. However, the mechanisms linking perinatal seasonal light to later-life biological rhythm and health in humans are unknown. In this study, we investigated the association between season of birth and epigenome-wide DNA methylation of two postmortem human brain regions (16 hypothalamus, 14 temporal cortex). We did not find statistically significant differences at the whole epigenome level, either because we lacked statistical power or that no association exists. However, when we examined 24 CpG sites that had the highest significance or differential methylation, we identified regions which may be associated with circadian rhythm entrainment, cholinergic neurotransmission and neural development. Amongst methylation of the core clock genes, we identified that hypothalamus Neuronal PAS Domain Protein 2 (NPAS2) gene has hypermethylated regions in long photoperiod-born individuals. In addition, we found nominal associations between season of birth and genes linked to chronotype and narcolepsy. Season of birth-related brain DNA methylation profile was different than a previously reported blood methylation profile, suggesting a tissue-specific mechanism of perinatal light programming. Overall, we are the first to analyse the relationship between season of birth and human brain DNA methylation. Further studies with larger sample sizes are required to confirm an imprinting effect of perinatal light on the circadian clock.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
Early online date26 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • DNA methylation
  • DOHaD
  • Keywords:
  • Season of birth
  • chronotype


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