Will your telomeres tell your future?BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e1727 (Published 13 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1727
- Thomas von Zglinicki, professor of cell gerontology
- 1Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5PL, UK
Telomeres, the DNA-protein structures that protect the ends of all chromosomes, shorten with every cell division in response to intrinsic molecular factors and DNA damaging stress generated by, for example, reactive oxygen.1 Ultimately, short telomeres trigger a DNA damage response that leads to cell senescence or death. This mechanism is a plausible cause of age related deterioration of tissue function, and short telomeres might be indicators of low stress resistance and predictors of accelerated ageing. This hypothesis was tested for the first time in humans in 2000, and short telomeres in peripheral blood were shown to be associated with age related cerebrovascular disease.2 Researchers developed a simple and efficient polymerase chain reaction assay for telomere length and performed a relatively small retrospective study that showed a higher risk of mortality in people with short telomeres.3 This triggered many studies of telomere length in blood cells as a biomarker of age related morbidity and mortality in humans, the findings of which resulted in broad agreement that human peripheral blood telomere length in sufficiently large cohorts is associated with the risk of cardiovascular …
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