Placental and Cord Blood Telomere Length in Relation to Maternal Nutritional Status

J Nutr. 2020 Oct 12;150(10):2646-2655. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa198.


Background: The uterine environment may be important for the chromosomal telomere length (TL) at birth, which, in turn, influences disease susceptibility throughout life. However, little is known about the importance of specific nutritional factors.

Objectives: We assessed the impact of multiple maternal nutritional factors on TL in placenta and cord blood.

Methods: In a population-based mother-child cohort in northwestern Argentina, we measured maternal weight, BMI, body fat percentage (BFP), and several nutrients [selenium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iodine, vitamin B-12, folate, 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (25(OH)D3)], hemoglobin, and homocysteine in maternal whole blood, serum, plasma, or urine during pregnancy (mean gestational week 27). We measured the relative TL (rTL) in placenta (n = 99) and cord blood (n = 98) at delivery by real-time PCR. Associations were evaluated by multivariable-adjusted linear regression.

Results: The women's prepregnancy BMI (kg/m2; mean ± SD: 23.7 ± 4.1), body weight (55.4 ± 9.9 kg), and BFP (29.9 ± 5.5%), but not height (153 ± 5.3 cm), were inversely associated with placental rTL (P < 0.01 for all), with ∼0.5 SD shorter rTL for an IQR increase in prepregnancy body weight, BMI, or BFP. Also, impedance-based BFP, but not lean body mass, in the third trimester was associated with shorter placental rTL. In addition, serum vitamin B-12 (232 ± 96 pmol/L) in pregnancy (P = 0.038), but not folate or homocysteine, was associated with shorter placental rTL (0.2 SD for an IQR increase). In contrast, plasma 25(OH)D3 (46 ± 15 nmol/L) was positively associated with placental rTL (P < 0.01), which increased by 0.4 SD for an IQR increase in 25(OH)D3. No clear associations of the studied maternal nutritional factors were found with cord blood rTL.

Conclusions: Maternal BMI, BFP, and vitamin B-12 were inversely associated, whereas 25(OH)D3 was positively associated, with placental TL. No association was observed with cord blood TL. Future studies should elucidate the role of placental TL for child health.

Keywords: 25(OH)D3; body fat; body weight; early-life programming; maternal nutrition in pregnancy; newborn; nutrients; placenta; vitamin B-12 status; vitamin D status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Nutritional Status
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Telomere Homeostasis*
  • Telomere*
  • Vitamin B 12 / blood


  • Vitamin B 12