Katherine Theall, Cecile Usdin Professor in Women’s Health at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, has published a new study in the American Journal of Public Health that finds prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke can impact parts of chromosomes in children.
Theall and fellow researchers at Tulane SPHTM investigated telomere length, a repetitive DNA sequence located at the ends of chromosomes that stabilizes the chromosome. Telomeres are a part of chromosomes that have been identified as a biomarker of cellular aging. After reviewing results from more than 100 New Orleans children aged 4 to 14, researchers found that telomere length was shorter among children who were exposed to smoke during pregnancy. Short telomere length has been associated with negative health outcomes.
“Stress exposure, both environmental and psychosocial, during prenatal life may result in biological changes that alter developmental trajectories and may alter lifelong health trajectories,” says Dr. Theall. “Identifying the earliest developmental time points for prevention and intervention is challenging but critical if we expect to improve health outcomes.”
Theall is director of the Mary Amelia Women’s Center at Tulane University, which focuses on community building for health, health promotion, research, and advocacy for improved health for all women.