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      Longitudinal versus Cross-sectional Evaluations of Leukocyte Telomere Length Dynamics: Age-Dependent Telomere Shortening is the Rule

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          Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is considered a biomarker of human aging and based on cross-sectional studies it shortens with age. However, longitudinal studies reported that many adults display LTL lengthening.


          Using Southern blots, we compared cross-sectional rates of age-related LTL change across a ∼20 year age range with those based on longitudinal evaluations in three surveys (S1, S2, and S3) with three time intervals: S1–S2 (5.8 years), S2–S3 (6.6 years), and S1–S3 (12.4 years). Hierarchical linear modeling was used to explore LTL dynamics using LTL data from S1, S2, and S3.


          Cross-sectionally, mean LTL shortenings were 24.6, 25.4, and 23.6 bp/y at S1, S2, and S3, respectively. Longitudinally, more variation was observed in the rate of LTL change during the shorter than longer follow-up periods. Furthermore, using simple differences in LTL, 14.4% and 10.7% of individuals displayed LTL lengthening during S1–S2 and S2–S3, respectively, but only 1.5% during S1–S3 ( p < 0.001). The estimated mean rate of LTL shortening based on averaging empirical Bayes’ estimates of LTL from a parsimonious hierarchical linear modeling model was 31 bp/y with a range from 23 to 47 bp/y with none of the participants showing LTL lengthening over the average 12.4 years of follow-up.


          As aging displays a unidirectional progression, it is unlikely that LTL elongates with age. LTL elongation in longitudinal studies primarily reflects measurement errors of LTL in relation to the duration of follow-up periods.

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          Most cited references 34

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          Obesity, cigarette smoking, and telomere length in women.

          Obesity and smoking are important risk factors for many age-related diseases. Both are states of heightened oxidative stress, which increases the rate of telomere erosion per replication, and inflammation, which enhances white blood cell turnover. Together, these processes might accelerate telomere erosion with age. We therefore tested the hypothesis that increased body mass and smoking are associated with shortened telomere length in white blood cells. We investigated 1122 white women aged 18-76 years and found that telomere length decreased steadily with age at a mean rate of 27 bp per year. Telomeres of obese women were 240 bp shorter than those of lean women (p=0.026). A dose-dependent relation with smoking was recorded (p=0.017), and each pack-year smoked was equivalent to an additional 5 bp of telomere length lost (18%) compared with the rate in the overall cohort. Our results emphasise the pro-ageing effects of obesity and cigarette smoking.
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            Telomere length, risk of coronary heart disease, and statin treatment in the West of Scotland Primary Prevention Study: a nested case-control study.

            Inter-individual differences in biological ageing could affect susceptibility to coronary heart disease. Our aim was to determine whether mean leucocyte telomere length is a predictor of the development of coronary heart disease. We compared telomere lengths at recruitment in 484 individuals in the West of Scotland Primary Prevention Study (WOSCOPS) who went on to develop coronary heart disease events with those from 1058 matched controls who remained event free. We also investigated whether there was any association between telomere length and observed clinical benefit of statin treatment in WOSCOPS. Mean telomere length decreased with age by 9% per decade (95% CI 3.6-14.1; p=0.001) in controls; much the same trend was seen in cases (-5.9% per decade, -3.1 to 14.1; p=0.1902). Individuals in the middle and the lowest tertiles of telomere length were more at risk of developing a coronary heart disease event than were individuals in the highest tertile (odds ratio [OR] for coronary heart disease: 1.51, 95% CI 1.15-1.98; p=0.0029 in the middle tertile; 1.44, 1.10-1.90, p=0.0090 in the lowest). In placebo-treated patients, the risk of coronary heart disease was almost double in those in the lower two tertiles of telomere length compared with those in the highest tertile (1.93, 1.33-2.80, p=0.0005 in the middle tertile; 1.94, 1.33-2.84, p=0.0006 in the lowest). By contrast, in patients treated with pravastatin, the increased risk with shorter telomeres was substantially attenuated (1.12, 0.75-1.69, p=0.5755 in the middle tertile; 1.02, 0.68-1.52, p=0.9380 in the lowest). Mean leucocyte telomere length is a predictor of future coronary heart disease events in middle-aged, high-risk men and could identify individuals who would benefit most from statin treatment. Our findings lend support to the hypothesis that differences in biological ageing might contribute to the risk--and variability in age of onset--of coronary heart disease.
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              The rate of telomere sequence loss in human leukocytes varies with age.

              A gradual loss of telomeric repeat sequences with aging previously has been noted in normal adult tissues, and this process has been implicated in cell senescence. No data exist that address the rate of telomere shortening in normal human cells within families or early in life. To address these questions, we measured telomere lengths in peripheral blood leukocytes (PBLs) from 75 members of 12 families and in a group of unrelated healthy children who were 5-48 months old. Here we report the surprising observation that rates of telomere attrition vary markedly at different ages. Telomeric repeats are lost rapidly (at a rate of >1 kilobase per year) from the PBLs of young children, followed by an apparent plateau between age 4 and young adulthood, and by gradual attrition later in life. These data suggest that the loss of telomeric repeats in hematopoietic cells is a dynamic process that is differentially regulated in young children and adults. Our results have implications for current models of how telomeric sequences are lost in normal somatic cells and suggest that PBLs are an excellent tissue to investigate how this process is controlled.

                Author and article information

                J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci
                The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
                Oxford University Press
                March 2011
                03 January 2011
                03 January 2011
                : 66A
                : 3
                : 312-319
                [1 ]Tulane Center for Cardiovascular Health, Tulane University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
                [2 ]The Center for Human Development and Aging
                [3 ]Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, New Jersey Medical School Newark, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark
                [4 ]Epidemiology Unit, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, Israel
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to A. Aviv, MD, Room F-464 MSB, The Center for Human Development and Aging, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 185 South Orange Avenue, Newark, NJ 07103. Email: avivab@ 123456umdnj.edu

                Decision Editor: Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD

                © The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES


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