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Exposure to stress and air pollution from bushfires during pregnancy: Could epigenetic changes explain effects on the offspring?


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Murphy, VE, Karmaus, W, Mattes, J, Brew, BK, Collison, A, Holliday, E, Jensen, ME, Morgan, GC, Zosky, GR ORCID: 0000-0001-9039-0302, McDonald, VM, Jegasothy, E, Robinson, PD and Gibson, PG 2021 , 'Exposure to stress and air pollution from bushfires during pregnancy: Could epigenetic changes explain effects on the offspring?' , International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 18, no. 14 , pp. 1-12 , doi: 10.3390/ijerph18147465.

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Due to climate change, bushfires are becoming a more frequent and more severe phenomenon which contributes to poor health effects associated with air pollution. In pregnancy, environmental exposures can have lifelong consequences for the fetus, but little is known about these consequences in the context of bushfire smoke exposure. In this review we summarise the current knowledge in this area, and propose a potential mechanism linking bushfire smoke exposure in utero to poor perinatal and respiratory outcomes in the offspring. Bushfire smoke exposure is associated with poor pregnancy outcomes including reduced birth weight and an increased risk of prematurity. Some publications have outlined the adverse health effects on young children, particularly in relation to emergency department presentations and hospital admissions for respiratory problems, but there are no studies in children who were exposed to bushfire smoke in utero. Prenatal stress is likely to occur as a result of catastrophic bushfire events, and stress is known to be associated with poor perinatal and respiratory outcomes. Changes to DNA methylation are potential epigenetic mechanisms linking both smoke particulate exposure and prenatal stress to poor childhood respiratory health outcomes. More research is needed in large pregnancy cohorts exposed to bushfire events to explore this further, and to design appropriate mitigation interventions, in this area of global public health importance.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Murphy, VE and Karmaus, W and Mattes, J and Brew, BK and Collison, A and Holliday, E and Jensen, ME and Morgan, GC and Zosky, GR and McDonald, VM and Jegasothy, E and Robinson, PD and Gibson, PG
Keywords: epigenetics, particulate matter, lung disease, bushfires, wildfire, epigenetics, DNA methylation, PM2.5, asthma, pregnancy
Journal or Publication Title: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Publisher: MDPI AG
ISSN: 1661-7827
DOI / ID Number: 10.3390/ijerph18147465
Copyright Information:

Copyright: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license (

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