Our Ageing Clock Starts Ticking Before Birth


Washington: It seems like we are old before our time as a new study has suggested that process of ageing begins in the womb.

In the University of Cambridge study using rats to model pregnancy and fetal development, the researchers also found that providing mothers with antioxidants during pregnancy meant that their offspring aged more slowly in adulthood.

However, the offspring of mothers with lower levels of oxygen in the womb, which, in humans, can be a consequence of smoking during pregnancy or of pregnancy at high altitude, aged more quickly in adulthood.

Our DNA is ‘written’ onto chromosomes, of which humans carry 23 pairs. The ends of each chromosome are known as telomeres and act in a similar way to the plastic that binds the ends of shoelaces, preventing the chromosomes from fraying. As we age, these telomeres become shorter and shorter, and hence their length can be used as a proxy to measure ageing.

Senior author Dino Giussani said that the study in rats suggests that the ageing clock begins ticking even before we are born and enter this world, which may surprise many people.

Giussani added “We already know that our genes interact with environmental risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise to increase our risk of heart disease, but here we’ve shown that the environment we’re exposed to in the womb may be just as, if not more, important in programming a risk of adult-onset cardiovascular disease.”

First author Beth Allison further stated that antioxidants are known to reduce ageing, but here it is shown for the first time that giving them to pregnant mothers can slow down the ageing clock of their offspring. This appears to be particularly important when there are complications with the pregnancy and the fetus is deprived of oxygen. Although this discovery was found using rats, it suggests a way that we may treat similar problems in humans.

The study is published in The FASEB Journal.


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