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Is Preterm Birth associated with Accelerated Telomere Shortening?

Presented at the Neonatal Society 2015 Spring Meeting.

Turner K1, George S2, Greenal J2, Griffin D1, Vasu V1,2

1 School of Biosciences, University of Kent
2 Department of Neonatal Medicine, William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, Kent, TN24 0LZ

Background: By term age preterm infants manifest an ‘aged’ phenotype characterised by altered body fat distribution, insulin resistance and hypertension. Telomeres are nucleoprotein structures at the end of human chromosomes that shorten with age and in association with the above morbidities. The aim of this study was to determine telomere length in a cohort of preterm infants at term equivalent age and in comparison to a cohort of term born infants. Our a priori hypothesis was that preterm at term infants would have shorter telomeres than term born controls.

Methods: With institutional research ethics approval and informed parental consent, blood samples were drawn from preterm infants (<32 weeks completed gestation) within 48 hours after birth (n=18) and at term equivalent age (n=18) alongside routine sampling. Blood samples were also drawn from term born controls (≥37 weeks completed gestation) within 48 hours after birth (n=27) where sampling was deemed necessary for other clinical purposes. DNA was extracted from blood and relative telomere length was assessed by qRT-PCR.

Results: Consistent with previously published data, telomere length appears to be highly variable among the newborn population. Telomere length is negatively correlated with gestational age, however we could find no evidence to indicate that overall telomere length was different between preterm infants sampled at birth compared to those sampled at term equivalent age. Furthermore our results identify that relative telomere length is shortest in term born controls. To the best of our knowledge this is the first study to measure telomere length in preterm infants at term equivalent age.

Conclusion: Our results do not support the hypothesis that telomere length is reduced in the preterm infant by term equivalent age. Given the high variability in telomere lengths among newborn infants, a longitudinal study in the future may provide valuable detail on the rate of telomere attrition in relation to signs of an ‘aged phenotype’.

Corresponding author: k.j.turner-24@kent.ac.uk

1. Turner K et al. Telomere length analysis and preterm infant health. Biomark Med. 2014; 8(4): 485-498
Okuda K et al. Telomere length in the newborn. Pediatr Res. 2002;52(3):377–381

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