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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

Journal article
Authors M. Herlin
K. Broberg
A. M. Igra
Huiqi Li
Florencia Harari
M. Vahter
Published in BMC Medicine
Volume 17
Issue 1
ISSN 1741-7015
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Language en
Keywords Antimony, Arsenic, Boron, Early life programming, Lead, Lithium, Nutrients, Telomeres, Zinc, cadmium, colecalciferol, folic acid, selenium, adolescent, adult, Argentina, Article, birth weight, blood analysis, cohort analysis, concentration (parameter), controlled study, educational status, environmental exposure, female, human, human tissue, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, limit of detection, male, maternal blood, maternal exposure, nutritional status, nutritional value, placenta, real time polymerase chain reaction, sex difference, telomere length, umbilical cord blood, urinalysis, urine level
Subject categories Environmental Health and Occupational Health, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine


Background: The 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. Method: In 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 log 2 -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 D 3 ). Results: Exposure 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. Conclusions: Elevated 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. © 2019 The Author(s).

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