Maternal Transmission of Stress Study (MATSS) / and the Infant Development Study (IDS)

The goal of this study is to examine the transgenerational transmission of biologic stress as measured by telomere structure. Currently funded by Dr. Katherine Theall’s Cecile Usdin Professorship in Women’s Health, we are examining the impact of maternal psychosocial (e.g., neighborhood disorder, early life events), physical (e.g., alcohol environment, parks/green space), and chemical (e.g., lead, mercury) environmental risk on maternal telomere structure. We are also examining the impact of maternal psychosocial, physical, and chemical environmental risk on the transmission of relatively shorter age-adjusted telomere structure to the child at birth. Our hypotheses are that mothers with higher levels of psychosocial and physical risk exposure (such as neighborhood stressors, stress buffers, and adverse life events) will exhibit shorter average telomere structure compared to mothers with lower levels of exposure. The difference in structure will vary based on the type of exposure, with a history of adverse life events having a greater impact on maternal average telomere structure than current psychosocial or physical environmental risks. Mothers with increased levels of chemical environmental risk exposure (such as lead and mercury, air pollution, and oil spill clean-up) will exhibit shorter average telomere structure compared to mothers with lower levels of exposure. Salient psychosocial, physical, and chemical environmental risk exposures, impacting maternal telomere structure, will explain a significant amount of variance in telomere structure in children at birth above and beyond direct maternal genetic transmission. Dr. Katherine Theall serves as principal investigator and Drs.Emily Harville and Stacy Drury as Co-PIs.