Background: DNA methylation (DNAm) is a key epigenetic regulator of gene expression across development. The developing prenatal brain is a highly dynamic tissue, but our understanding of key drivers of epigenetic variability across development is limited.
Results: We therefore assessed genomic methylation at over 39 million sites in the prenatal cortex using whole genome bisulfite sequencing and found loci and regions in which methylation levels are dynamic across development. We saw that DNAm at these loci was associated with nearby gene expression and enriched for enhancer chromatin states in prenatal brain tissue. Additionally, these loci were enriched for genes associated with psychiatric disorders and genes involved with neurogenesis. We also found autosomal differences in DNAm between the sexes during prenatal development, though these have less clear functional consequences. We lastly confirmed that the dynamic methylation at this critical period is specifically CpG methylation, with very low levels of CpH methylation.
Conclusion: Our findings provide detailed insight into prenatal brain development as well as clues to the pathogenesis of psychiatric traits seen later in life.