In contrast to the postnatal period, little is known about telomere length (TL) during prenatal life. The decrease in placental TL remains unknown, although intra uterine growth retardation and preeclampsia are associated with shorter placental TL. The aim of this study is to assess the decrease of placental TL during the third trimester of gestation and to explore the role of potential "growth influencing factors".
The study sample consisted of 329 live-born twins from the East Flanders Prospective Twin Survey. TL was determined using a multiplex quantitative PCR method. Gestational age, sex, birth order, placental characteristics, parity, maternal and paternal age, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, alcohol use, and socio economic status (SES) were considered "growth influencing factors". Bivariable multilevel regression analysis with "growth influencing factors" was performed.
Placental TL ranged from 4.3 kbp to 84.4 kbp with a median of 10.8 kbp. Ln(TL) decreased in a linear fashion with an estimated TL decreasing from 13.98 kbp at 28 weeks to 10.56 kbp at 42 weeks. The regression coefficient of gestational age became smaller if considered together with SES (b = -0.017; p = 0.08) or diabetes (b = -0.018; p = 0.07) and bigger if considered together with parity (b = -0.022; p = 0.02), indicating that part of the association between gestational age and telomere length is explained by these three confounding factors.
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Placental TL decreases during the third trimester of gestation of live-born twins with approximately 25% indicating that telomere shortening may play a role in aging of the placenta.