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J Immunol. 2010 Apr 1;184(7):3417-23. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0903442. Epub 2010 Feb 22.

Cytomegalovirus infection reduces telomere length of the circulating T cell pool.

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Department of Experimental Immunology, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Short telomeres of circulating leukocytes are a risk factor for age-related diseases, such as atherosclerosis, but the exact mechanisms generating variations in telomere length are unknown. We hypothesized that induction of differentiated T cells during chronic CMV infection would affect T cell telomere length. To test this, we measured the amount of differentiated T cells and telomere length of lymphocytes during primary CMV infection as well as CMV-seropositive and -seronegative healthy individuals. After primary CMV infection, we observed an increase in highly differentiated cells that coincided with a steep drop in telomere length. Moreover, we found in a cohort of 159 healthy individuals that telomere shortening was more rapid in CMV-seropositive individuals and correlated with the amount of differentiated T cells in both CD4(+) T cells and CD8(+) T cells. Finally, we found that telomere length measured in blood leukocytes is correlated with lymphocyte telomere length. Thus, CMV infection induces a strong decrease in T cell telomere length, which can be explained by changes in the composition of the circulating lymphocyte pool.

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