Prenatal lead exposure, telomere length in cord blood, and DNA methylation age in the PROGRESS prenatal cohort

José F. Herrera-Moreno, Guadalupe Estrada-Gutierrez, Haotian Wu, Tessa R. Bloomquist, Maria José Rosa, Allan C. Just, Hector Lamadrid-Figueroa, Martha M. Téllez-Rojo, Robert O. Wright, Andrea A. Baccarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: Lead is a ubiquitous pollutant with deleterious effects on human health and remains a major current public health concern in developing countries. This heavy metal may interfere with nucleic acids via oxidative stress or epigenetic changes that affect biological markers of aging, e.g., telomere length and DNA methylation (DNAm). Telomere shortening associates with biological age in newborns, and DNA methylation at specific CpG sites can be used to calculate “epigenetic clocks". Objective: The aim of this study was to examine the associations of prenatal lead exposures with telomere length and DNA-methylation-based predictors of age in cord blood. Design: The study included 507 mother–child pairs from the Programming Research in Obesity, Growth, Environment and Social Stressors (PROGRESS) study, a birth cohort in Mexico City. Maternal blood (second trimester, third trimester and at delivery) and bone lead levels (one month postpartum) were measured using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry and X-ray fluorescence, respectively. Cord blood leukocyte telomere length was measured using quantitative PCR and apparent age by DNA methylation biomarkers, i.e., Horvath's DNA methylation age and the Knight's predictor of gestational age. Results: Average maternal age was 28.5 ± 5.5 years, and 51.5% reported low socioeconomic status. Children's mean telomere length was 1.2 ± 1.3 relative units, and mean DNA methylation ages using the Horvath's and Knight's clocks were −2.6 ± 0.1 years and 37.9 ± 1.4 weeks (mean ± SD), respectively. No significant associations were found between maternal blood and bone lead concentrations with telomere length and DNAm age in newborns. Conclusion: We found no associations of prenatal lead exposure with telomere length and DNA methylation age biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112577
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2022


  • DNA methylation age
  • Epigenetic clocks
  • Lead exposure
  • Prenatal exposure
  • Telomere Length


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