Background & Aims
Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) shortens with age and short LTL has been associated with increased mortality and increased risk for some age-related outcomes. This study aims to analyse the associations of smoking habits with LTL and rate of LTL change per year in older adults.
LTL was measured by quantitative PCR at baseline in 3600 older adults, who were enrolled in a population-based cohort study in Germany. For longitudinal analyses, measurements were repeated in blood samples obtained at 8-year follow-up from 1000 participants. Terminal Restriction Fragment analysis was additionally performed in a sub-sample to obtain absolute LTL in base pairs. Multivariate linear regression models were used to estimate associations of smoking habits with baseline LTL and changes in LTL over time.
LTL was inversely associated with age (r=-0.090, p<0.0001). Women had longer LTL than men (p<0.0001). Smoking was inversely associated with LTL. On average, current smokers had 73 base pairs (BP) shorter LTL compared to never smokers. Smoking intensity and pack-years of smoking were also inversely associated with LTL, and a positive association was observed with years since smoking cessation. Slower LTL attrition rates were observed in ever smokers over 8years of follow-up.
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Our cross-sectional analysis supports suggestions that smoking might contribute to shortening of LTL but this relationship could not be shown longitudinally. The overall rather small effect sizes observed for smoking-related variables suggest that LTL reflects smoking-related health hazards only to a very limited extent.