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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2011 Apr;66(4):421-9. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glq224. Epub 2011 Feb 2.

Leukocyte telomere length and mortality in the Cardiovascular Health Study.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington, Collaborative Health Studies Coordinating Center, Building 29, Suite 310, 6200 NE 74th Street, Seattle, WA 98115, USA.



Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is related to diseases of aging, but studies of mortality have been inconsistent.


We evaluated LTL in relation to total mortality and specific cause of death in 1,136 participants of the Cardiovascular Health Study who provided blood samples in 1992-1993 and survived through 1997-1998. LTL was measured by Southern blots of the terminal restriction fragments. Cause of death was classified by a committee of physicians reviewing death certificates, medical records, and informant interviews.


A total of 468 (41.2%) deaths occurred over 6.1 years of follow-up in participants with mean age of 73.9 years (SD 4.7), 65.4% female, and 14.8% African American. Although increased age and male gender were associated with shorter LTLs, African Americans had significantly longer LTLs independent of age and sex (p < .001). Adjusted for age, sex, and race, persons with the shortest quartile of LTL were 60% more likely to die during follow-up than those within the longest quartile (hazard ratio: 1.61, 95% confidence interval: 1.22-2.12, p = .001). The association remained after adjustment for cardiovascular disease risk factors. Evaluations of cause of death found LTL to be related to deaths due to an infectious disease etiology (hazard ratio: 2.80, 95% confidence interval: 1.32-5.94, p = .007), whereas a borderline association was found for cardiac deaths (hazard ratio: 1.82, 95% confidence interval: 0.95-3.49, p = .07) in adjusted models. Risk estimates for deaths due to cancer, dementia, and ischemic stroke were not significant.


These data weakly corroborate prior findings of associations between LTL and mortality in the elderly.

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