Do Telomeres Predict Heart Disease?

Researchers measure telomeres length in relation to the risk of heart disease.


Telomeres, DNA protein complexes that shorten with cell division, have been associated with coronary artery disease. They’ve also been posited as surrogate markers of the aging process and biomarkers of age-related chronic cardiovascular disease. But researchers from Germany and The Netherlands, who measured these “mitotic clocks” in peripheral blood leukocytes, say they didn’t find evidence that classic coronary risk factors contribute to telomere attrition.

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The researchers measured mean telomere length (TL) in blood from 343 blood donors, and found although age and sex were significantly associated with TL, glucose, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and fibrinogen were not. However, they did find positive associations between TL and erythrocyte and leukocyte counts, hematocrit, and hemoglobin, as well as a borderline significance with thrombocytes. One liver enzyme (GPT) was significantly inversely associated with TL. Their data suggest that telomere attrition may be a marker for reduced global cellular reserve, the researchers say.

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Progressive telomere shortening has been observed in vascular regions susceptible to atherosclerosis, the researchers say, which may enhance atherogenesis. They also theorize that the chronic systemic inflammation seen in atherogenesis may “secondarily” lead to increased cell turnover and telomere attrition.

Source: Neuner B, Lenfers A, Kelsch R, et al. PLOS One. 2015;10(10):e0139308.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139308.

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