Air Pollution and Psychosocial Stress Exposure

Air Pollution and Psychosocial stress exposure during pregnancy, telmere length and respiratory health in childhood

In utero exposure to ambient pollution and psychosocial stress may adversely affect the developing respiratory system. Principal investigator Maria José Rosa, DrPH, was awarded $25,000 in October to further investigate air pollution and psychosocial stress exposure during pregnancy, telomere length and respiratory health in childhood.

Despite the long history of research on these two issues, the underlying mechanism of their effects has not been completely elucidated. Telomeres play a critical role in cellular aging and appear to be particularly sensitive to reactive oxygen species (ROS) damage. Decreased length may represent a common underlying mechanism connecting fetal programming and subsequent adverse respiratory outcomes shared by both exposures. Newborn telomere length may be of particular importance.

Dr. Rosa is joined by co-investigators and CEHC faculty Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH, and Allan Just, PhD, and Professor of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD.

The team is looking at particulate matter of exposure during pregnancy for each of the participants enrolled in the Programming Research in Obesity, Growth, Environment and Social Stressors (PROGRESS) cohort in Mexico City.


“We have collected prospective measures of stress during pregnancy and children’s respiratory health. In this proposal we will measure leukocyte telomere length (LTL) in cord blood DNA, as an index of cumulative ROS and cellular aging during pregnancy.We predict that children with higher exposure to prenatal PM2.5/stress will have shorter LTL, and shorter LTL will be associated with greater risk of asthma/wheeze in childhood, with LTL potentially mediating the effects between air pollution/stress and asthma/wheeze.”

– Maria José Rosa, DrPH