Journal Article

Telomere length and mortality: a study of leukocytes in elderly Danish twins

Kimura, M., Hjelmborg, J. v.B., Gardner, J., Bathum, L., Brimacombe, M., Lu, X., Christiansen, L., Vaupel, J. W., Aviv, A., Christensen, K.

American Journal of Epidemiology, 167:7, 799-806 (2008)

Keywords: age, mortality, survival, twins


Leukocyte telomere length, representing the mean length of all telomeres in leukocytes, is ostensibly a bioindicator of human aging. The authors hypothesized that shorter telomeres might forecast imminent mortality in elderly people better than leukocyte telomere length. They performed mortality analysis in 548 same-sex Danish twins (274 pairs) aged 73–94 years, of whom 204 pairs experienced the death of one or both co-twins during 9–10 years of follow-up (1997–2007). From the terminal restriction fragment length (TRFL) distribution, the authors obtained the mean TRFL (mTRFL) and the mean values of the shorter 50% (mTRFL50) and shortest 25% (mTRFL25) of TRFLs in the distribution and computed the mode of TRFL (MTRFL). They analyzed the proportions of twin pairs in which the co-twin with the shorter telomeres died first. The proportions derived from the intrapair comparisons indicated that the shorter telomeres predicted the death of the first co-twin better than the mTRFL did (mTRFL: 0.56, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.49, 0.63; mTRFL50: 0.59, 95% CI: 0.52, 0.66; mTRFL25: 0.59, 95% CI: 0.52, 0.66; MTRFL: 0.60, 95% CI: 0.53, 0.67). The telomere-mortality association was stronger in years 3–4 than in the rest of the follow-up period, and it grew stronger with increasing intrapair difference in all telomere parameters. Leukocyte telomere dynamics might help explain the boundaries of the human life span.