Shortened Infant Telomere Length Is Associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms in Children at Age Two Years: A Birth Cohort Study

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Apr 21;23(9):4601. doi: 10.3390/ijms23094601.


Environmental factors can accelerate telomere length (TL) attrition. Shortened TL is linked to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in school-aged children. The onset of ADHD occurs as early as preschool-age, but the TL-ADHD association in younger children is unknown. We investigated associations between infant TL and ADHD symptoms in children and assessed environmental factors as potential confounders and/or mediators of this association. Relative TL was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction in cord and 12-month blood in the birth cohort study, the Barwon Infant Study. Early life environmental factors collected antenatally to two years were used to measure confounding. ADHD symptoms at age two years were evaluated by the Child Behavior Checklist Attention Problems (AP) and the Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Problems (ADHP). Associations between early life environmental factors on TL or ADHD symptoms were assessed using multivariable regression models adjusted for relevant factors. Telomere length at 12 months (TL12), but not at birth, was inversely associated with AP (β = -0.56; 95% CI (-1.13, 0.006); p = 0.05) and ADHP (β = -0.66; 95% CI (-1.11, -0.21); p = 0.004). Infant secondhand smoke exposure at one month was independently associated with shorter TL12 and also higher ADHD symptoms. Further work is needed to elucidate the mechanisms that influence TL attrition and early neurodevelopment.

Keywords: attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; environmental factors; epidemiology; inattention/hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms; infant secondhand smoke exposure; telomere length; young children.

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / genetics
  • Birth Cohort
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Schools
  • Telomere / genetics