Human leukocyte telomere length (LTL) decreases with age and shorter LTL has previously been associated with increased prospective mortality. However, it is not clear whether LTL merely marks the health status of an individual by its association with parameters of immune function, for example, or whether telomere shortening also contributes causally to lifespan variation in humans.
We measured LTL in 870 nonagenarian siblings (mean age 93 years), 1580 of their offspring and 725 spouses thereof (mean age 59 years) from the Leiden Longevity Study (LLS).
We found that shorter LTL is associated with increased prospective mortality in middle (30-80 years; hazard ratio (HR)=0.75, P=0.001) and highly advanced age (≥90 years; HR=0.92, P=0.028), and show that this association cannot be explained by the association of LTL with the immune-related markers insulin-like growth factor 1 to insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 molar ratio, C-reactive protein, interleukin 6, cytomegalovirus serostatus or white blood cell counts. We found no difference in LTL between the middle-aged LLS offspring and their spouses (β=0.006, P=0.932). Neither did we observe an association of LTL-associated genetic variants with mortality in a prospective meta-analysis of multiple cohorts (n=8165).
© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.
We confirm LTL to be a marker of prospective mortality in middle and highly advanced age and additionally show that this association could not be explained by the association of LTL with various immune-related markers. Furthermore, the approaches performed here do not further support the hypothesis that LTL variation contributes to the genetic propensity for longevity.