Publications

Maternal Social Disadvantage and Newborn Telomere Length in Archived Dried Blood Spots from the Michigan Neonatal Biobank

Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Short telomere length is associated with morbidity and mortality among adults and may mark the biological impact of social experiences. Using archived dried blood spots from the Michigan Neonatal Biobank, this study examined markers of maternal social disadvantage (educational attainment, receipt of public assistance, marital status, and race/ethnicity) from linked birth certificates as predictors of telomere length at birth in a sample of 192 singleton neonates born to non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic white, and Latina mothers aged 20-35 years. Consistent with two recent studies in newborns, but counter to the idea that maternal social disadvantage is associated with shorter offspring telomere length, we found that infants born to black mothers had longer telomeres than those born to white mothers (b = 0.12, SE = 0.06, p = .05). However, black/white differences in newborn telomere length varied by receipt of public assistance. Among newborns whose mothers received WIC and/or Medicaid, there were no significant black/white differences in telomere length (b = 0.09, SE = 0.08, p = .25). In contrast, among those whose mothers did not receive public assistance-just 6 out of 69 infants born to black mothers versus 41 out of 69 infants born to white mothers-we found that babies born to black mothers had longer telomere length than babies born to white mothers (b = 0.37, SE = 0.16, p = .03). The interaction between black race/ethnicity and receipt of public assistance did not reach the conventional threshold for statistical significance (b = -0.22, SE = 0.15, p = .13), suggesting that this finding may be due to chance. No other markers of maternal social disadvantage were related to infant telomere length. Although replication of these results in a larger sample with more infants born to black mothers with relatively high socioeconomic status is needed, this study offers preliminary support for the hypothesis that race/ethnic differences in newborn telomere length depend on social context.