Statins are one of the most potent drugs in delaying age-related inflammatory changes in the arterial vessel wall, slowing down the progression of atherosclerosis. Statins have also been shown to abrogate telomere-attributed cardiovascular risk. The goal of our study was to explore a potential effect of atorvastatin on telomerase activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and T-lymphocytes (T cells).
Methods And Results
Treatment with pharmacologically relevant concentrations (0.1-0.3 μM) of atorvastatin resulted in a 6-fold increase of telomerase activity (TA) (p < 0.0001) in human and mouse PBMCs and CD4 T cells, translating into moderate proliferation of T lymphocytes. In contrast, high doses of atorvastatin (2-5 μM) or the addition of LDL cholesterol completely inhibited proliferation, thereby abrogating telomerase activity. The proliferative effect of atorvastatin was ablated by the absense of the catalytic subunit of telomerase, telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT). Using transgenic GFP-mTert reporter mice, we observed a decrease in telomerase-positive lymphocytes from 30% to 15% during the first 5 months of age (p < 0.01). This suggests that the decrease in immune cell turnover during normal development and maturation is mirrored by a reduction in telomerase activity in lymphocytes in-vivo.
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Atorvastatin and cholesterol have opposing effects on telomerase in mononuclear cells and T-lymphocytes. Our study suggests a link between cholesterol metabolism and telomere-related cardiovascular risk.