Newborn Telomere Length Shortened by Maternal Obesity

FETAL PROGRAMMING and epigenetic influences are current topics of extensive debate. Although the impacts of smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy are well-relayed, the potential associations of maternal weight and BMI on newborn cellular health is an area little researched. Now, researchers from Hasselt University, Hasselt, Belgium, have found a convincing link between pre-pregnancy BMI and the telomere length of their children.

Telomeres are essential for regulated cellular function and health. Acting as protective caps found at the ends of chromosomes, telomeres are responsible for protection from DNA damage during cellular replication. Telomere length directly correlates with the number of replications available to the given cell type and through ageing, telomeres will naturally shorten, eventually leading to cellular damage and dysfunction, a strong component in age-related disease development.

Interested in the principle of shorter telomere length and higher biological age, researchers obtained DNA samples from newborn cord blood (n=743) and the placentas (n=702) of mothers participating in the ENVIRONAGE birth cohort study (maternal age of 17–44, mean pre-pregnancy BMI of 24.1). Following quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction, the team analysed each sample using univariate and multivariable adjusted linear regression models.

Independent of well-known detrimental factors, including parental age, socioeconomic class, and smoking status, it was found that higher maternal pre-pregnancy BMI ran parallel to a decline in newborn telomere length; 50 base pair constituents were lost per point increase in maternal BMI. Throughout adulthood, 32.2–­45.5 base pairs will be lost, on average, per year. Following this general rule, a loss of 50 from the telomeres of newborns equates to 1–2 years from their lifespan.

“Compared with newborns of mothers with a normal BMI, newborns of women with obesity are older on a molecular level, because shortened telomere lengths mean that their cells have shorter lifespans,” explained author Prof Tim Nawrot, Centre for Environmental Sciences, Hasselt University, Hasselt, Belgium “So maintaining a healthy BMI during a woman’s reproductive age may promote molecular longevity in the offspring.” These findings support the benefits of pre-pregnancy health for not only the mother, but also her child. It is yet to be determined whether paternal BMI has any significant impact.

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