Maternal Folate Concentration in Early Pregnancy and Newborn Telomere Length

Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;66(4):202-8. doi: 10.1159/000381925. Epub 2015 Jun 9.


Background/aims: Telomere biology plays a fundamental role in genomic integrity and cell physiology. The newborn setting of telomere length (TL) likely has important implications for telomere dynamics over the lifespan; however, its determinants are poorly understood. Folate is essential for DNA integrity. The maternal compartment is the only source of folate for the developing fetus. We, therefore, tested the hypothesis that variation in maternal folate during pregnancy is associated with newborn TL.

Methods: A prospective, longitudinal study was conducted in 119 mother-newborn dyads. Eligible mothers were enrolled at 9.5 (SD ±2.1) weeks gestation and followed through birth. Concentrations of maternal serum folate were measured in the first trimester of pregnancy. Newborn telomere length was measured in cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMC).

Results: After accounting for the effects of other established determinants of newborn TL, each 10 ng/ml increase in maternal total folate was associated with a 5.8% increase in median TL (p = 0.03). The median TL in newborns of mother in the lowest quartile of total folate levels was approximately 10% shorter than that of newborns of mothers in the highest folate quartile.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that fetal TL exhibits developmental plasticity, and provide evidence that maternal nutrition may exert a 'programming' effect on this system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asymptomatic Diseases*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood
  • Fetal Development*
  • Folic Acid / blood*
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / blood*
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Philadelphia
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / blood*
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Pregnancy, High-Risk / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Telomere Shortening*
  • Young Adult


  • Folic Acid