It is well established from previous cross-sectional studies that telomeres shorten with age. However, due to a considerable inter-individual variation in telomere length (TL), its relationship with biological aging is difficult to unpick. Longitudinal repeated assessments of TL changes within individuals should augment our understanding of TL dynamics in aging. This study disentangles within- and inter-individual effects of age on leukocyte telomere length (LTL) dynamics in a large population-based cohort of older adults. A total of 4053 subjects aged 50 and older from the WHO Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE) in Shanghai were studied. Relative LTL (T/S ratio) was measured at baseline (2009–2010) and follow-up (2017–2018) by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. We used linear random slope models to analyze LTL dynamics in relation to age and sex and within-subject centering method to distinguish within- versus between-subject effects. We observed LTL shortening in 66.32%, maintenance in 11.23%, and elongation in 22.45% of the study participants. LTL declined significantly with age both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. More importantly, the longitudinal decline in LTL was much greater than the cross-sectional decline (− 0.017 (p < 0.001) versus − 0.002 (p < 0.001) per year). Furthermore, women had a lower within-subject LTL shortening rate than men (− 0.014 versus − 0.020 per year, p < 0.001). The within-individual longitudinal decline in LTL was much greater than the inter-individual cross-sectional decline, indicating that chronological age might impose a greater impact on LTL shortening than other influencing factors combined. Moreover, women showed a lower within-individual LTL shortening rate than men.
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The authors thank the participants and the investigators who participated in this study.
This work was supported by the WHO and the US National Institute on Aging through Interagency Agreements (OGHA 04034785, YA1323-08-CN-0020, Y1-AG-1005-01) and through a research grant (R01-AG034479); the Program for Outstanding Medical Academic Leader, Shanghai, China (2019LJ24); and Shanghai Municipal Health Commission (20204Y0196, 2020YJZX0113, 201840118).
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Huang, Z., Liu, C., Ruan, Y. et al. Dynamics of leukocyte telomere length in adults aged 50 and older: a longitudinal population-based cohort study. GeroScience (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-020-00320-y
- Leukocyte telomere length
- Longitudinal study
- Within-subject effect
- Between-subject effect