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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51046. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051046. Epub 2012 Dec 4.

Red blood cell size is inversely associated with leukocyte telomere length in a large multi-ethnic population.

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  • 1Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, United States of America.


Although mutations in the genes encoding either the protein or RNA component of telomerase have been found in patients with various blood disorders, the impact of telomere length on hematopoiesis is less well understood for subjects from the general population. Here we have measured telomere lengths of genomic DNA isolated from circulating leukocytes of 3157 subjects, ranging from 18 to 85 years of age, enrolled in a large multiethnic population based study, the Dallas Heart Study 2. Shorter telomere lengths are marginally associated with lower red blood cell counts in this cohort, but are significantly associated with larger mean red blood cell size (as measured by the MCV), increased red blood cell distribution width (RDW), higher hemoglobin levels and lower platelet counts, even after correction for age, gender and ethnicity (p-values of <0.0001, <0.0001, 0.0009 and 0.0016, respectively). In a multiple regression model we find that telomere length is a significant covariate of MCV (p = 7.6 × 10(-8)), independent of age, ethnicity, BMI, current smoking, alcohol consumption, iron or homocysteine levels. The effect of telomere length on MCV variation is comparable to the effect of smoking or alcohol consumption and is more significant in older individuals (p = 9.2 × 10(-7) for >50 years vs. p = 0.0006 for <50 years of age). To our knowledge, this is the first report of an association between telomere length and red cell size in a large urban US population and suggests a biologic mechanism for macrocytosis of aging.

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