The purpose of this study was to investigate the association of telomere length in peripheral blood leukocytes with the severity of biliary atresia (BA).
One hundred and fourteen BA patients and 114 age-matched healthy controls were enrolled. Relative telomere length (RTL) was assessed using a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. Multivariate regression analysis was used to estimate RTL as an independent risk factor of BA. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis was used to calculate the accuracy of biomarkers in the prediction of liver cirrhosis.
BA patients had significantly shorter telomeres than healthy controls (p < 0.0001). The RTL in BA patients with jaundice was considerably lower than that of patients without jaundice (p = 0.005). Moreover, RTL was markedly shorter in patients with cirrhosis (F4), as compared to patients with mild fibrosis (F2) and non-fibrosis (F0-F1, p < 0.0001). Logistic regression analysis indicated that short RTL was associated with a higher risk of liver cirrhosis in BA. Tertile analysis showed a dose-response effect for this association (p trend < 0.0001). Additionally, RTL in BA children revealed a negative correlation with age (r = -0.50, p < 0.001). We noted an association between reduction of RTL and liver stiffness scores, adjusted for age and gender (b = -0.01, p < 0.0001). Short RTL can be employed to distinguish cirrhosis patients from non-cirrhosis patients (AUC = 0.78). Further analysis showed a linear correlation between leukocyte RTL and liver RTL in BA patients (r = 0.83, p < 0.001).
The findings of this study provide evidence that telomere shortening is associated with an elevated risk of liver cirrhosis in BA.