PFAS and indicators of aging and cellular stress: a new study for public health


At the beginning of April, a new Erasmus student from Italy, Dr. Elisea Tomaino, joined our team to develop their TFM. A new study has therefore been initiated within the BiSC project, under the supervision of Professor Martine Vrijheid, Dr Bethany Knox and Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology Antonella Paola Agodi and her University research group of Catania, where the student comes from.

The aim we propose is to investigate the existence of an association between the exposure of pregnant women to per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) and the length of telomeres (TL) and the number of copies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA-CN) of placental cells.

On the one hand, PFASs are a group of man-made chemical compounds that are used in a variety of industrial and consumer products for their ability to repel water, oil, heat and stains. These substances do not break down easily, which causes them to accumulate in the environment and in the human body over time, which is why there is concern about possible effects on human health.

On the other hand, telomere length is an index of cellular aging and mitochondrial DNA content represents a biomarker of cellular oxidative stress and inflammation.

Various researches have linked exposure to PFASs to a range of health problems, including hormonal disorders, liver problems, cancer, and developmental problems in children. The association between PFAS exposure and TL in neonates has been previously investigated, but conflicting and/or non-statistically significant results were found. Furthermore, in previous studies examining PFAS exposure and placental mtDNA content, only PFOS was included and no statistically significant associations were discovered, and to our knowledge, no study has yet been conducted on the ‘association between an extensive list of PFAS and TL telomere status and mtDNA content in placental cells.

Why research specifically on LT and mtDNA – CN?

TL during prenatal and postnatal stages has been found to be related to chronic diseases in adulthood, such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Likewise, a low mtDNA copy number during childhood has been associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and elevated insulin levels in adulthood. Therefore, investigating the existence of a possible correlation between PFAS exposure levels and an alteration of TL and mtDNA- in this period could be valuable to improve public health.


Thanks to your participation, we can provide BiSC with multiple research related to the health of mothers and children. We greatly appreciate your commitment!


The news was written by Elisea Tomaino, master’s student in Health Biology.