Objective: In adults, one of the major determinants of leukocyte telomere length (LTL), a predictor of age-related diseases and mortality, is cumulative psychosocial stress exposure. More recently we reported that exposure to maternal psychosocial stress during intrauterine life is associated with LTL in young adulthood. The objective of the present study was to determine how early in life this effect of stress on LTL is apparent by quantifying the association of maternal psychosocial stress during pregnancy with newborn telomere length.
Study design: In a prospective study of N = 27 mother-newborn dyads maternal pregnancy-specific stress was assessed in early gestation and cord blood peripheral blood mononuclear cells were subsequently collected and analyzed for LTL measurement.
Results: After accounting for the effects of potential determinants of newborn LTL (gestational age at birth, weight, sex, and exposure to antepartum obstetric complications), there was a significant, independent, linear effect of pregnancy-specific stress on newborn LTL that accounted for 25% of the variance in adjusted LTL (β = -0.099; P = .04).
Conclusion: Our finding provides the first preliminary evidence in human beings that maternal psychological stress during pregnancy may exert a "programming" effect on the developing telomere biology system that is already apparent at birth, as reflected by the setting of newborn LTL.
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