We sought to investigate whether maternal smoking during pregnancy affects telomere length of the fetus.
Pregnant women were recruited on hospital admission at delivery. A self-report questionnaire and salivary cotinine test were used to confirm tobacco exposure. Neonatal umbilical cord blood samples were collected, and genomic DNA was isolated from cord blood leukocytes and was analyzed for fetal telomere length based on quantitative polymerase chain reaction. A ratio of relative telomere length was determined by telomere repeat copy number and single copy gene copy number (T/S ratio) and used to compare the telomere length of active, passive, and nonsmokers. Bootstrap and analysis of variance statistical methods were used to evaluate the relationship between prenatal smoking status and fetal telomere length.
Of the 86 women who were included in this study, approximately 69.8% of the participants were covered by Medicaid, and 55.8% of the participants were black or Hispanic. The overall mean T/S ratio was 0.8608 ± 1.0442. We noted an inverse relationship between smoking and fetal telomere length in a dose-response pattern (T/S ratio of nonsmokers that was more than passive smokers that was more than active smokers). Telomere length was significantly different for each pairwise comparison, and the greatest difference was between active and nonsmokers.
Our results provide the first evidence to demonstrate a positive association between shortened fetal telomere length and smoking during pregnancy. Our findings suggest the possibility of early intrauterine programming for accelerated aging that is the result of tobacco exposure.