Research News

Young adults with shorter telomeres have lower resistance to colds

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 27 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1220


Researchers from the US recently infected 152 volunteers with the common cold to study the link between acute infections and telomere length in leucocytes. The volunteers, who had a mean age of 30 years, agreed to be given nose drops containing rhinovirus 39 in exchange for a fee of $1000 (£655; €758). After a blood test to measure telomere length, they were isolated for five days while researchers conducted daily nasal lavage to look for viral shedding, weighed nasal mucus, and measured clearance using flavoured dye placed on the inferior turbinates. Further blood tests tracked their immune response.

Just over two thirds of the volunteers started shedding virus or developed specific antibodies indicating infection (105; 69%). Just over a fifth also had a cold, defined by the weight of nasal mucus and sluggish mucociliary clearance (33; 22%). Volunteers with the shortest telomeres had the highest odds of infection in adjusted analyses (odds ratio per 1 standard deviation decrease in telomere length, 1.71, 95% CI 1.08 to 2.72). The researchers also found a link between clinical colds and shorter telomeres, but only for the subset of T cells most susceptible to telomere shortening (CD8CD28 negative cells). This subset has an important role in clearing infected cells, say the researchers.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1220