Telomere length is considered to be a risk factor in adults due to its proved association with cancer incidence and mortality. Since newborn present a wide interindividual variation in mean telomere length, it is relevant to demonstrate if these differences in length can act also as an early risk indicator. To answer this question, we have measured the mean telomere length of 74 samples of cord blood from newborns and studied its association with the basal genetic damage, measured as the frequency of binucleated cells carrying micronuclei. In addition, we have challenged the cells of a subgroup of individuals (N = 35) against mitomycin-C (MMC) to establish their sensitivity to induced genomic instability. Results indicate that newborn with shorter telomeres present significantly higher levels of genetic damage when compared to those with longer telomeres. In addition, the cellular response to MMC was also significantly higher among those samples from subjects with shorter telomeres. Independently of the causal mechanisms involved, our results show for the first time that telomere length at delivery influence both the basal and induced genetic damage of the individual.
Individuals born with shorter telomeres may be at increased risk, especially for those biological processes triggered by genomic instability as is the case of cancer and other age-related diseases.