Salivary epigenetic biomarkers as predictors of emerging childhood obesity

Amanda Rushing, Evan C. Sommer, Shilin Zhao, Eli K. Po'E, Shari L. Barkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Epigenetics could facilitate greater understanding of disparities in the emergence of childhood obesity. While blood is a common tissue used in human epigenetic studies, saliva is a promising tissue. Our prior findings in non-obese preschool-aged Hispanic children identified 17 CpG dinucleotides for which differential methylation in saliva at baseline was associated with maternal obesity status. The current study investigated to what extent baseline DNA methylation in salivary samples in these 3-5-year-old Hispanic children predicted the incidence of childhood obesity in a 3-year prospective cohort. Methods: We examined a subsample (n = 92) of Growing Right Onto Wellness (GROW) trial participants who were randomly selected at baseline, prior to randomization, based on maternal phenotype (obese or non-obese). Baseline saliva samples were collected using the Oragene DNA saliva kit. Objective data were collected on child height and weight at baseline and 36 months later. Methylation arrays were processed using standard protocol. Associations between child obesity at 36 months and baseline salivary methylation at the previously identified 17 CpG dinucleotides were evaluated using multivariable logistic regression models. Results: Among the n = 75 children eligible for analysis, baseline methylation of Cg1307483 (NRF1) was significantly associated with emerging childhood obesity at 36-month follow-up (OR = 2.98, p = 0.04), after adjusting for child age, gender, child baseline BMI-Z, and adult baseline BMI. This translates to a model-estimated 48% chance of child obesity at 36-month follow-up for a child at the 75th percentile of NRF1 baseline methylation versus only a 30% chance of obesity for a similar child at the 25th percentile. Consistent with other studies, a higher baseline child BMI-Z during the preschool period was associated with the emergence of obesity 3 years later, but baseline methylation of NRF1 was associated with later obesity even after adjusting for child baseline BMI-Z. Conclusions: Saliva offers a non-invasive means of DNA collection and epigenetic analysis. Our proof of principle study provides sound empirical evidence supporting DNA methylation in salivary tissue as a potential predictor of subsequent childhood obesity for Hispanic children. NFR1 could be a target for further exploration of obesity in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34
JournalBMC Medical Genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 14 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Epigenetics
  • Hispanic children
  • Methylation
  • Obesity
  • Saliva


Dive into the research topics of 'Salivary epigenetic biomarkers as predictors of emerging childhood obesity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this