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Telomere length predicts cardiovascular disease

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 08 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4373
  1. Ioakim Spyridopoulos, chair of cardiovascular gerontology,
  2. Thomas von Zglinicki, chair of cellular gerontology
  1. 1Newcastle University Institute for Ageing, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 6BE, UK
  1. Correspondence to: t.vonzglinicki{at}

Measurement in humans is unlikely to be useful until we find out how and why

Atherosclerosis is an age related disease characterised by systemic oxidative stress and low grade chronic inflammation. Telomeres consist of DNA repeats at the ends of chromosomes, which shorten with every cell division. They can reach a critically short length, precipitating a form of cellular decline and ageing called cell senescence.

Evidence that oxidative stress drives telomere shortening in human cells led to the suggestion that telomere length in peripheral blood cells might be a marker for age related risk of mortality and morbidity and, specifically, for cardiovascular diseases.1 In their paper, Haycock and coauthors (doi:10.1136/bmj.g4227) present the first meta-analysis that integrates data from 24 individual studies on the link between telomere length and cardiovascular risk.2 As expected, the authors found an inverse relationship between telomere length within leucocytes and risk of coronary heart disease. Importantly, this association remained significant in analyses confined to prospective studies and was independent of conventional vascular risk factors. However, short telomeres did not predict risk of cerebrovascular disease.

The harmonisation of data from …

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