Background: Telomere length (TL) predicts the onset of cellular senescence and correlates with longevity and age-related disease risk. While telomeres erode throughout life, adults display fixed ranking and tracking of TL, supporting the importance of the early environment in determining inter-individual variability across the life course. Given their guanine-rich structure, telomeres are highly susceptible to oxidative stress (OS). We examined maternal metal exposure, which can induce OS, in relation to newborn TL. We also considered the modifying role of maternal antioxidant intake. Methods: Analyses included 100 mother-newborn pairs enrolled in the Boston and New York City-based PRogramming of Intergenerational Stress Mechanisms (PRISM) pregnancy cohort. We measured As, Ba, Cd, Ni, and Pb in maternal late-pregnancy urine by ICP-MS and quantified relative leukocyte TL (rLTL) in cord blood using qPCR. We used Weighted Quantile Sum (WQS) regression to estimate the metal mixture - rLTL association and conducted repeated holdout validation to improve the stability of estimates across data partitions. We examined models stratified by high (>median) versus low (≤median) maternal antioxidant intake, estimated from Block98 Food Frequency Questionnaires. We considered urinary creatinine, week of urine collection, maternal age, and race/ethnicity as covariates. Results: In adjusted models, urinary metals were inversely associated with newborn rLTL (βWQS = −0.50, 95% CI: −0.78, −0.21). The top metals contributing to the negative association included Ba (weight: 35.4%), Cd (24.5%) and Pb (26.9%). In models stratified by antioxidant intake, the significant inverse association between metals and rLTL remained only among mothers with low antioxidant intake (low: βWQS = −0.92, 95% CI: −1.53, −0.30; high: βWQS = −0.03, 95% CI: −0.58, 0.52). Results were similar in unadjusted models. Conclusions: Relative LTL was shorter among newborns of mothers with higher exposure to metals during pregnancy. Higher maternal antioxidant intake may mitigate the negative influence of metals on newborn rLTL.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110009
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Barium (Ba)
  • Cadmium (Cd)
  • Lead (Pb)
  • Metals
  • Newborn
  • Telomere


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