The relationship between fertility and lifespan in humans
Evolutionary theories of aging predict a trade-off between fertility and lifespan, where increased lifespan comes at the cost of reduced fertility. Support for this prediction has been obtained from various sources. However, which genes underlie this relationship is unknown. To assess it, we first analyzed the association of fertility with age at menarche and menopause, and with mortality in 3,575 married female participants of the Rotterdam Study. In addition, we conducted a candidate gene study where 1,664 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 25 candidate genes were analyzed in relation to number of children as a measure of fertility. SNPs that associated with fertility were analyzed for association with mortality. We observed no associations between fertility and age at menarche (p = 0.38) and menopause (p = 0.07). In contrast, fertility was associated with mortality. Women with two to three children had significantly lower mortality (hazard ratio (HR), 0.82; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 0.69-0.97) compared to women with no children. No such benefit was observed for women with four or more children, who had a similar mortality risk (HR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.76-1.13) as women with no children. The analysis of candidate genes revealed four genes that influence fertility after correction for multiple testing: CGB/LHB gene cluster (p = 0.0036), FSHR (p = 0.023), FST (p = 0.023), and INHBA (p = 0.021). However, none of the independent SNPs in these genes predicted mortality. In conclusion, women who bear two to three children live longer than those who bear none or many children, but this relationship was not mediated by the candidate genes analyzed in this study.