Maternal obesity may affect biological age of children: Study

Oct 18, 2016 18:31 IST

A new study suggests that higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in women before pregnancy can lead to shorter telomere length, a biomarker for biological age, in their newborns.

The study was conducted by the researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium. The study was published in the journal BMC Medicine.

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Key highlights of the study

To conduct the study, the team examined 743 mothers, who were 17 to 44 years of age, and their newborn babies.

Compared with newborns of mothers with a normal BMI, newborns of women with obesity are older on a molecular level. It is because shortened telomere lengths mean that their cells have shorter lifespans.

Telomere length, which is measured by the number of DNA base pairs they occupy, is directly linked to the number of times a cell can divide in its lifetime.

Therefore, longer telomeres allow cells to divide more often, providing a link between telomere length and biological age.

Telomere length in adults has been associated with age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and increased mortality.

The research team found that for each one-point increase in the mothers' BMI, telomeres in the babies were about 50 base pairs shorter.

The 50 base pair shortening of telomere length is equivalent to the length that people normally lose in 1.1 - 1.6 years of adult life, which may increase the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood.

What is Telomere?

Telomeres are structures at the ends of chromosomes which are vital in maintaining the stability of a person's genome as they protect chromosomes from degradation.

During chromosome replication, the enzymes that duplicate DNA cannot continue their duplication all the way to the end of a chromosome. Therefore, in each duplication, the end of the chromosome is shortened.

The telomeres are disposable buffers at the ends of chromosomes which are truncated during cell division.

Their presence protects the genes before them on the chromosome from being truncated instead.

The telomeres themselves are protected by a complex of shelterin proteins, as well as by the RNA that telomeric DNA encodes (TERRA).

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