Impact of prenatal heavy metal exposure on newborn leucocyte telomere length: A birth-cohort study

Environ Pollut. 2018 Dec;243(Pt B):1414-1421. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.09.090. Epub 2018 Sep 21.


Arsenic, cadmium and lead are toxic environmental contaminants. They were shown to be associated with telomere length (TL) in adults. Although they can cross the placental barrier, the effect of prenatal exposure of these metals on newborn TL is unknown. The aim of this study was to examine whether prenatal exposure to heavy metals has an impact on newborn leucocyte TL. A birth-cohort study was conducted with 409 pregnant women and their newborns in Myanmar. During the first visit, face-to-face interviews were conducted, and maternal spot urine sampling was performed. Cord blood samples were collected during follow-up. Urinary heavy metal concentration was measured by ICP-MS and adjusted for creatinine. Relative TL was measured by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. The extent of prenatal arsenic, cadmium and lead exposure and their associations with newborn leucocyte TL were assessed using multivariate linear regression. The median values of maternal urinary arsenic, cadmium, and lead concentrations were 73.9, 0.9, and 1.8 μg/g creatinine, respectively. Prenatal arsenic and cadmium exposure was significantly associated with newborn TL shortening (lowest vs highest quartile, coefficient = - 0.13, 95% CI: - 0.22, - 0.03, p = 0.002, and coefficient = - 0.17, 95% CI: - 0.27, - 0.07, p = 0.001, respectively), and the associations remained robust after adjusting for confounders. There was no significant association between prenatal lead exposure and newborn TL. The present study identified the effect of arsenic and cadmium exposure on TL shortening, even in utero exposure at a lower concentration.

Keywords: Arsenic; Cadmium; Heavy metal; Myanmar; Newborns; Telomere length.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arsenic / urine
  • Cadmium / blood
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lead / blood
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Metals, Heavy / blood
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Telomere


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Arsenic