• Open Access

Paternal age is positively linked to telomere length of children


Departments of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Oncology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Dr. NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 4N1. Tel.: +1 403 220 8695; fax: +1 403 270 0834; e-mail: karl@ucalgary.ca


Telomere length is linked to age-associated diseases, with shorter telomeres in blood associated with an increased probability of mortality from infection or heart disease. Little is known about how human telomere length is regulated despite convincing data from twins that telomere length is largely heritable, uniform in various tissues during development until birth and variable between individuals. As sperm cells show increasing telomere length with age, we investigated whether age of fathers at conception correlated with telomere length of their offspring. Telomere length in blood from 125 random subjects was shown to be positively associated with paternal age (+22 bp yr−1, 95% confidence interval 5.2–38.3, P = 0.010), and paternal age was calculated to affect telomere length by up to 20% of average telomere length per generation. Males lose telomeric sequence faster than females (31 bp yr−1, 17.6–43.8, P < 0.0001 vs. 14 bp yr−1, 3.5–24.8, P < 0.01) and the rate of telomere loss slows throughout the human lifespan. These data indicate that paternal age plays a role in the vertical transmission of telomere length and may contribute significantly to the variability of telomere length seen in the human population, particularly if effects are cumulative through generations.