Hypercortisolism in Cushing's syndrome (CS) is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Hypercortisolism also occurs in chronic depressive disorders and stress, where telomere length (TL) is shorter than in controls. We hypothesized that shortening of telomere might occur in CS and contribute to premature aging and morbidity.
To investigate TL in CS patients compared with controls.
Seventy-seven CS patients (14 males, 59 pituitary, 17 adrenal, and one ectopic; 21 with active disease) were compared with 77 gender-, age-, and smoking-matched controls. Fifteen CS were evaluated longitudinally, during active disease and after remission of hypercortisolism. Leukocyte TL was measured by telomere restriction fragment-Southern technique. Clinical markers were included in a multiple linear regression analysis to investigate potential predictors of TL.
Mean TL in CS patients and controls was similar (7667 vs 7483 bp, NS). After adjustment for age, in the longitudinal evaluation, TL was shorter in active disease than after remission (7273 vs 7870, P<0.05). Age and dyslipidemia were negative predictors (P<0.05), and total leukocyte count was a positive predictor for TL (P<0.05). As expected, a negative correlation was found between TL and age (CS, R=-0.400 and controls, R=-0.292; P<0.05). No correlation was found between circulating cortisol, duration of exposure to hypercortisolism or biochemical cure and TL.
Even though in the cross-sectional comparison of CS and controls no difference in TL was found, in the longitudinal evaluation, patients with active CS had shorter TL than after biochemical cure of hypercortisolism. These preliminary results suggest that hypercortisolism might negatively impact telomere maintenance. Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.