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Nucleic Acids Res. 2003 Mar 1;31(5):1576-83.

Ageing and telomeres: a study into organ- and gender-specific telomere shortening.

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Department of Clinical Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Addenbrookes Hospital, Box 232, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QR, UK.


Telomeres, the non-coding sequences at the ends of chromosomes, in the absence of telomerase, progressively shorten with each cell division. Shortening of telomeres can induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. The aim of this study was to investigate age- and gender-related changes in telomere length in the rat and to detect possible tissue- specific rates of telomere shortening. Changes with age in telomere lengths were assessed by Southern blotting in the kidney, pancreas, liver, lung and brain of male and female rats. We determined the percentage of telomeres in various molecular size regions rather than measuring the average telomere length. The latter was unable to detect telomere shortening in the tissues. The percentage of short telomeres increased with age in the kidney, liver, pancreas and lung of both males and females, but not in the brain. Males had shorter telomeres than females in all organs analysed except the brain, where the lengths were similar. These findings indicate that telomeres shorten in the rat kidney, liver, pancreas and the lung in an age-dependent manner. These data also provide a novel mechanism for the gender-related differences in lifespan and suggest a tissue-specific regulation of telomere length during development and ageing in the rat.

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