Leptin is an adipokine that acts in the central nervous system and regulates energy balance. Animal models and human observational studies have suggested that leptin surge in the perinatal period has a critical role in programming long-term risk of obesity. In utero exposure to maternal hyperglycemia has been associated with increased risk of obesity later in life. Epigenetic mechanisms are suspected to be involved in fetal programming of long term metabolic diseases. We investigated whether DNA methylation levels near LEP locus mediate the relation between maternal glycemia and neonatal leptin levels using the 2-step epigenetic Mendelian randomization approach. We used data and samples from up to 485 mother-child dyads from Gen3G, a large prospective population-based cohort. First, we built a genetic risk score to capture maternal glycemia based on 10 known glycemic genetic variants (GRS10) and showed it was an adequate instrumental variable (β = 0.046 mmol/L of maternal fasting glucose per additional risk allele; SE = 0.007; P = 7.8 × 10(-11); N = 467). A higher GRS10 was associated with lower methylation levels at cg12083122 located near LEP (β = -0.072 unit per additional risk allele; SE = 0.04; P = 0.05; N = 166). Direction and effect size of association between the instrumental variable GRS10 and methylation at cg12083122 were consistent with the negative association we observed using measured maternal glycemia. Lower DNA methylation levels at cg12083122 were associated with higher cord blood leptin levels (β = -0.17 log of cord blood leptin per unit; SE = 0.07; P = 0.01; N = 170). Our study supports that maternal glycemia is part of causal pathways influencing offspring leptin epigenetic regulation.
Mendelian randomization supports causality between maternal hyperglycemia and epigenetic regulation of leptin gene in newborns.