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Keywords

neonatal intensive care, pain, preterm infants, stress, telomere

 

Authors

  1. Casavant, Sharon G.
  2. Li, Hongfei
  3. Reese, Bo
  4. Chen, Ming-Hui
  5. Cong, Xiaomei S.

Abstract

Background: Annually, approximately 15 million babies are born preterm (<37 weeks gestational age) globally. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) environment, infants are exposed to repeated stressful or painful procedures as part of routine lifesaving care. These procedures have been associated with epigenetic alterations that may lead to an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. Telomere length has been negatively associated with adverse life experiences in studies of adults.

 

Objectives: This pilot study aimed to describe telomere length in a sample of preterm infants at NICU discharge and examine any associations with pain, feeding method, and neurodevelopment.

 

Methods: This descriptive pilot study sample includes baseline absolute telomere length (aTL) of 36 preterm infants immediately prior to discharge. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction was used to determine aTL. Infant demographics, pain/stress, type of feeding, antibiotic use, neurodevelopment, and buccal swab data were collected. Descriptive data analysis was used to describe the telomere length using graphs.

 

Results: Among our preterm infant samples, the mean aTL was far greater than the average adult telomere length. Although no significant associations were found between aTL and pain, feeding method, and neurodevelopment, a trend between sex was noted where male telomere lengths were shorter than females as they aged.

 

Discussion: This is one of few studies to evaluate preterm infant telomere length. Although other researchers have used relative telomere length, we used the more accurate aTL. We found nonsignificant shorter telomere lengths among males. Additional large-scale, longitudinal studies are needed to better identify the predictors of telomere length at the time of discharge from NICU.