Selective hypermethylation is evident in small intestine samples from infants with necrotizing enterocolitis

Misty Good, Tianjiao Chu, Patricia Shaw, Lila S. Nolan, Joseph Wrobleski, Carlos Castro, Qingqing Gong, Olivia DeWitt, David N. Finegold, David Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common and lethal gastrointestinal disease affecting preterm infants. NEC develops suddenly and is characterized by gut barrier destruction, an inflammatory response, intestinal necrosis and multi-system organ failure. There is currently no method for early NEC detection, and the pathogenesis of NEC remains unclear. Design: To further understand the molecular mechanisms that support NEC, we used solution phase hybridization and next-generation DNA sequencing of bisulfite converted DNA to perform targeted genome-wide analysis of DNA methylation at high read depth. Results: We found that ileal samples from surgical NEC infants (n = 5) exist in a broadly hypermethylated state relative to their non-NEC counterparts (n = 9). These trends were not uniform, with hypermethylation being most consistently observed outside CpG islands and promoters. We further identified several biologically interesting gene promoters that displayed differential methylation in NEC and a number of biological pathways that appear dysregulated in NEC. We also found that DNA methylation patterns identified in ileal NEC tissue were correlated with those found and published previously in stool samples from NEC-affected infants. Conclusion: We confirmed that surgical NEC is associated with broad DNA hypermethylation in the ileum, and this may be detectable in stool samples of affected individuals. Thus, an epigenomic liquid biopsy of stool may have significant potential as a biomarker with respect to the diagnostic/predictive detection of NEC. Our findings, along with recent similar observations in colon, suggest that epigenomic dysregulation is a significant feature of surgical NEC. These findings motivate future studies which will involve the longitudinal screening of samples obtained prior to the onset of NEC. Our long-term goal is the development of novel screening, diagnostic and phenotyping methods for NEC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number49
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Ileum
  • Intestine
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Neonatal


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