Aging starts at the beginning of life as evidenced by high variability in telomere length (TL) and mitochondrial DNA content (mtDNAc) at birth. Whether p53 and PGC-1α are connected to these age-related markers in early life is unclear. In this study, we hypothesized that these hallmarks of aging are associated at birth.

In 613 newborns from the ENVIRONAGE birth cohort, p53 and PGC-1α protein levels were measured in cord plasma, while TL and mtDNAc were measured in both cord blood and placental tissue. Cord blood methylation data of genes corresponding to the measured protein levels were available from the Human MethylationEPIC 850K BeadChip array. Pearson correlations and linear regression models were applied while accounting for selected covariates. In cord, a 10% increase in TL was associated with 5.22% (95% CI: 3.26 to 7.22; p < 0.0001) higher mtDNAc and −2.66% (95% CI: –5.04 to −0.23%; p = 0.032) lower p53 plasma level. In placenta, a 10% increase in TL was associated with 5.46% (95% CI: 3.82 to 7.13%; p < 0.0001) higher mtDNAc and −2.42% (95% CI: −4.29 to −0.52; p = 0.0098) lower p53 plasma level. Methylation level of TP53 was correlated with TL and mtDNAc in cord blood and with cord plasma p53 level.

Our study suggests that p53 may be an important factor both at the protein and methylation level for the telomere-mitochondrial axis of aging at birth.