• Open Access

Telomere length predicts survival independent of genetic influences

Authors

  • Stephanie L. Bakaysa,

    1. Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
    2. Channing Laboratory, Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA
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  • Lorelei A. Mucci,

    1. Channing Laboratory, Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA
    2. Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA
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  • P. Eline Slagboom,

    1. Section of Molecular Epidemiology, Department of Medical Statistics and Bioinformatics, Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, the Netherlands
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  • Dorret I. Boomsma,

    1. Department of Biological Psychology, Vrije Universiteit, Van der Boechorststraat 1, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Gerald E. McClearn,

    1. Center for Developmental and Health Genetics, Department of Biobehavioral Health, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, PA, USA
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  • Boo Johansson,

    1. Center for Developmental and Health Genetics, Department of Biobehavioral Health, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, PA, USA
    2. Department of Psychology, University of Göteborg, Göteborg, Sweden
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  • Nancy L. Pedersen

    1. Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
    2. Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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Nancy L. Pedersen, Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, P.O. Box 281, SE-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden. Tel. +46 8 524 87418; fax: +46 8 31 49 75; e-mail: nancy.pedersen@ki.se

Summary

Telomeres prevent the loss of coding genetic material during chromosomal replication. Previous research suggests that shorter telomere length may be associated with lower survival. Because genetic factors are important for individual differences in both telomere length and mortality, this association could reflect genetic or environmental pleiotropy rather than a direct biological effect of telomeres. We demonstrate through within-pair analyses of Swedish twins that telomere length at advanced age is a biomarker that predicts survival beyond the impact of early familial environment and genetic factors in common with telomere length and mortality. Twins with the shortest telomeres had a three times greater risk of death during the follow-up period than their co-twins with the longest telomere measurements [hazard ratio (RR) = 2.8, 95% confidence interval 1.1–7.3, P = 0.03].

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