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Exploring telomere length in mother–newborn pairs in relation to exposure to multiple toxic metals and potential modifying effects by nutritional factors

  • Herlin, Maria1, 2
  • Broberg, Karin1
  • Igra, Annachiara Malin1
  • Li, Huiqi3, 4, 5
  • Harari, Florencia1, 4, 5
  • Vahter, Marie1
  • 1 Karolinska Institutet, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Stockholm, SE-171 77, Sweden , Stockholm (Sweden)
  • 2 Swedish Museum of Natural History, Current Address: Department of Environmental Research and Monitoring, Stockholm, Sweden , Stockholm (Sweden)
  • 3 Lund University, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Lund, Sweden , Lund (Sweden)
  • 4 Sahlgrenska University Hospital and University of Gothenburg, Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Gothenburg, Sweden , Gothenburg (Sweden)
  • 5 Sahlgrenska University Hospital and University of Gothenburg, Current Address: Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Gothenburg, Sweden , Gothenburg (Sweden)
Published Article
BMC Medicine
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Apr 11, 2019
DOI: 10.1186/s12916-019-1309-6
Springer Nature


BackgroundThe uterine environment may influence telomere length at birth, which is essential for cellular function, aging, and disease susceptibility over the lifespan. However, little is known about the impact of toxic chemicals on early-life telomeres. Therefore, we assessed the potential impact of multiple toxic metals on relative telomere length (rTL) in the maternal blood, cord blood, and placenta, as well as the potential modifying effects of pro-oxidants.MethodIn a mother–child cohort in northern Argentina (n = 169), we measured multiple toxic metals in the maternal blood or urine collected during late pregnancy, as well as the placenta and cord blood collected at delivery, using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). We assessed associations of log2-transformed metal concentrations with rTL, measured in maternal and cord blood leukocytes and the placenta by real-time PCR, using multivariable-adjusted linear regression. Additionally, we tested for modifications by antioxidants (zinc, selenium, folate, and vitamin D3).ResultsExposure to boron and antimony during pregnancy was associated with shorter maternal rTL, and lithium with longer maternal rTL; a doubling of exposure was associated with changes corresponding to 0.2–0.4 standard deviations (SD) of the rTL. Arsenic concentrations in the placenta (n = 98), blood, and urine were positively associated with placental rTL, about 0.2 SD by doubled arsenic. In the cord blood (n = 88), only lead was associated with rTL (inversely), particularly in boys (p for interaction 0.09). Stratifying by newborn sex showed ten times stronger association in boys (about 0.6 SD) than in girls. The studied antioxidants did not modify the associations, except that with antimony.ConclusionsElevated exposure to boron, lithium, arsenic, and antimony was associated with maternal or newborn rTL in a tissue-specific, for lead also sex-specific, manner. Nutritional antioxidants did not generally influence the associations.

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