Limited data suggest that leukocytes of the elderly display ultra-short telomeres. It was reported that in some elderly persons leukocyte telomere length (LTL) shows age-dependent elongation. Using cross-sectional and longitudinal models, we characterized LTL dynamics in participants of the Longitudinal Study of Aging Danish Twins. We measured LTL by Southern blots of the terminal restriction fragment length (TRFL) in 476 individuals (73-94 years) in a cross-sectional evaluation and in a subset of this cohort comprising 80 individuals (73-81 years at baseline) who were followed-up for approximately 10 years. Based on the mean TRFL, we found that a) the average rate of LTL attrition was respectively, 27 bp/year (P < 0.001) and 31 bp/year (P < 0.001) for the cross-sectional and longitudinal evaluations, and b) mean TRFL was 180 bp (95 % CI 43, 320) longer in females than males (P < 0.010). For the TRFL distribution, which captures telomeres of all lengths in the DNA sample, we observed significant shifts with age toward shorter telomeres. Based on the measurement error of the TRFLs, we computed that in the longitudinal evaluation 10.6 % of individuals would manifest LTL elongation over 10 years, assuming a 340 bp attrition during this period. This was not significantly different from the empirical observation of 7.5 % of individuals showing LTL elongation. We conclude that accumulation of ultra-short telomeres in leukocytes of the elderly reflects a shift toward shorter telomeres in the entire telomere distribution. Measurement error is the probable explanation for LTL elongation in longitudinal studies.
European Journal of Epidemiology, 2013, Vol 28, Issue 2, p. 181-7
Age Factors; Aged; Aged, 80 and over; Aging; Blotting, Southern; Cross-Sectional Studies; Female; Humans; Leukocytes; Longitudinal Studies; Male; Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length; Telomere