Leukocyte telomere length is associated with noninvasively measured age-related disease: The cardiovascular health study

Jason L. Sanders, Annette L. Fitzpatrick, Robert M. Boudreau, Alice M. Arnold, Abraham Aviv, Masayuki Kimura, Linda F. Fried, Tamara B. Harris, Anne B. Newman

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Background. Most studies of leukocyte telomere length (LTL) focus on diagnosed disease in one system. A more encompassing depiction of health is disease burden, defined here as the sum of noninvasively measured markers of structure or function in different organ systems. We determined if (a) shorter LTL is associated with greater age-related disease burden and (b) shorter LTL is less strongly associated with disease in individual systems or diagnosed chronic conditions (cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, or depression). Methods. LTL was measured by Southern blots of terminal restriction fragment length. Age-related disease was measured noninvasively and included carotid intima-media thickness, lung vital capacity, white matter grade, cystatin-C, and fasting glucose; each graded 0 (best tertile), 1 (middle tertile), or 2 (worst tertile) and summed (0 to 10) to estimate disease burden. Of 419 participants randomly selected for LTL measurement, 236 had disease burden assessed (mean [SD] age 74.2 [4.9] years, 42.4% male, 86.8% white, and 13.2% black). Results. Mean (SD) LTL was 6,312 (615) bp, and disease score was 4.7 (2.1) points. An SD higher disease score (β [SE] =-132 [47] bp, p <. 01), age (β [SE] =-107 [46], p =. 02) or carotid thickness (β [SE] =-95 [40] bp, p =. 02) was associated with shorter LTL, but diagnosed conditions or number of conditions were not associated with LTL. Disease score attenuated the effect of age on LTL by 35%. Conclusion. LTL was associated with a characterization of age-related disease burden across multiple physiologic systems, which was comparable to, but independent of, its association with age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-416
Number of pages8
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Volume67 A
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


  • Aging
  • Disease burden
  • Leukocyte telomere length
  • Noninvasive measurements

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