Psychosocial stress contributes to placental oxidative stress. Mitochondria are vulnerable to oxidative stress, which can lead to changes in mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn). We examined associations of maternal lifetime stress, current negative life events, and depressive and posttraumatic-stress-disorder symptom scores with placental mtDNAcn in a racially/ethnically diverse sample (n = 147) from the Programming of Intergenerational Stress Mechanisms (PRISM) study (Massachusetts, March 2011 to August 2012). In linear regression analyses adjusted for maternal age, race/ethnicity, education, prenatal fine particulate matter exposure, prenatal smoking exposure, and the sex of the child, all measures of stress were associated with decreased placental mtDNAcn (all P values < 0.05). Weighted-quantile-sum (WQS) regression showed that higher lifetime stress and depressive symptoms accounted for most of the effect on mtDNAcn (WQS weights: 0.25 and 0.39, respectively). However, among white individuals, increased lifetime stress and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms explained the majority of the effect (WQS weights: 0.20 and 0.62, respectively) while among nonwhite individuals, lifetime stress and depressive symptoms accounted for most of the effect (WQS weights: 0.27 and 0.55, respectively). These analyses are first to link increased maternal psychosocial stress with reduced placental mtDNAcn and add to literature documenting racial/ethnic differences in the psychological sequelae of chronic stress that may contribute to maternal-fetal health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1227-1236
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • PRISM cohort
  • biomarkers
  • maternal stress
  • mitochondrial abundance
  • mitochondrial function
  • oxidative stress
  • placenta
  • pregnancy


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