Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Experimental evidence shows that telomere shortening induces mitochondrial damage but so far studies in humans are scarce. Here, we investigated the association between leukocyte telomere length (LTL) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) content in elderly and explored possible intermediate mechanisms by determining the gene expression profile of candidate genes in the telomere-mitochondrial axis of ageing. Among 166 non-smoking elderly, LTL, leukocyte mtDNA content and expression of candidate genes: sirtuin1 (SIRT1), tumor protein p53 (TP53), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ-coactivator1α (PGC-1α), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ-coactivator1β (PGC-1β), nuclear respiratory factor 1 (NRF1) and nuclear factor, erythroid 2 like 2 (NRF2), using a quantitave real time polymerase chain assay (qPCR). Statistical mediation analysis was used to study intermediate mechanisms of the telomere-mitochondrial axis of ageing. LTL correlated with leukocyte mtDNA content in our studied elderly (r = 0.23, p = 0.0047). SIRT1 gene expression correlated positively with LTL (r = 0.26, p = 0.0094) and leukocyte mtDNA content (r = 0.43, p < 0.0001). The other studied candidates showed significant correlations in the telomere-mitochondrial interactome but not independent from SIRT1. SIRT1 gene expression was estimated to mediate 40% of the positive association between LTL and leukocyte mtDNA content. The key finding of our study was that SIRT1 expression plays a pivotal role in the telomere-mitochondrial interactome.