Maternal stress during pregnancy and small for gestational age birthweight are not associated with telomere length at 11 years of age

Gene. 2019 Apr 30;694:97-101. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2019.01.017. Epub 2019 Feb 7.


Background: Previous studies indicate that low birth weight and exposure to maternal stress during pregnancy may result in shortened telomeres in infants. Shorter telomere length has in turn been linked with accelerated ageing and with age-related diseases. This study aimed to investigate the association between pregnancy and birth factors and relative telomere length in offspring at 11 years of age.

Methods: Participants were aged 11 years enrolled in the Auckland Birthweight Collaborative Study at birth (n = 380). Half of the children were born small for gestational age (SGA = birthweight ≤ 10th percentile) and half were appropriate for gestational age (AGA = birthweight > 10th percentile). Maternal stress during pregnancy was assessed using the Perceived Stress Scale. Relative leukocyte telomere length (RTL) in leukocytes was measured at 11 years of age using quantitative real-time PCR.

Results: RTL was normally distributed (mean = 3.78, SD = 1.05). There were no significant associations between RTL at age 11 years and birthweight, sex, maternal smoking, maternal stress during pregnancy or maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index.

Conclusion: At age 11 years, RTL did not differ between children by birthweight or pregnancy-related stressors. Further telomere-related studies in newborns, children and adolescents are merited to increase knowledge of potential telomere modulating factors.

Keywords: Birthweight; Children; Maternal stress; Relative telomere length.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight / genetics*
  • Birth Weight / physiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Small for Gestational Age / metabolism
  • Leukocytes
  • Male
  • Maternal Inheritance / genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Telomere Shortening / genetics