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Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Jan;125(1):76-81. doi: 10.1289/EHP241. Epub 2016 Jun 3.

Telomere Length, Long-Term Black Carbon Exposure, and Cognitive Function in a Cohort of Older Men: The VA Normative Aging Study.

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Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



Long-term air pollution exposure has been associated with age-related cognitive impairment, possibly because of enhanced inflammation. Leukocytes with longer telomere length (TL) are more responsive to inflammatory stimuli, yet TL has not been evaluated in relation to air pollution and cognition.


We assessed whether TL modifies the association of 1-year exposure to black carbon (BC), a marker of traffic-related air pollution, with cognitive function in older men, and we examined whether this modification is independent of age and of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.


Between 1999 and 2007, we conducted 1-3 cognitive examinations of 428 older men in the Veterans Affairs (VA) Normative Aging Study. We used covariate-adjusted repeated-measure logistic regression to estimate associations of 1-year BC exposure with relative odds of being a low scorer (≤ 25) on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), which is a proxy of poor cognition. Confounders included age, CRP, and lifestyle and sociodemographic factors.


Each doubling in BC level was associated with 1.57 (95% CI: 1.20, 2.05) times higher odds of low MMSE scores. The BC-MMSE association was greater only among individuals with longer blood TL (5th quintile) (OR = 3.23; 95% CI: 1.37, 7.59; p = 0.04 for BC-by-TL-interaction). TL and CRP were associated neither with each other nor with MMSE. However, CRP modified the BC-MMSE relationship, with stronger associations only at higher CRP (5th quintile) and reference TL level (1st quintile) (OR = 2.68; 95% CI: 1.06, 6.79; p = 0.04 for BC-by-CRP-interaction).


TL and CRP levels may help predict the impact of BC exposure on cognitive function in older men. Citation: Colicino E, Wilson A, Frisardi MC, Prada D, Power MC, Hoxha M, Dioni L, Spiro A III, Vokonas PS, Weisskopf MG, Schwartz JD, Baccarelli AA. 2017. Telomere length, long-term black carbon exposure, and cognitive function in a cohort of older men: the VA Normative Aging Study. Environ Health Perspect 125:76-81;

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