Telomere length and common disease: study design and analytical challenges.


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Authors
Barrett, Jennifer H 
Iles, Mark M 
Dunning, Alison M 
Pooley, Karen A 
Abstract

Telomeres, the repetitive sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes, help to maintain genomic integrity and are of key importance to human health. The aim here is to give an overview of the evidence for the importance of telomere length (TL) to the risk of common disease, considering the strengths and weaknesses of different epidemiological study designs. Methods for measuring TL are described, all of which are subject to considerable measurement error. TL declines with age and varies in relation to factors such as smoking and obesity. It is also highly heritable (estimated heritability of ~40 to 50%), and genome-wide studies have identified a number of associated genetic variants. Epidemiological studies have shown shorter TL to be associated with risk of a number of common diseases, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The relationship with cancer appears complex, in that longer telomeres are associated with higher risk of some cancers. Prospective studies of the relationship between TL and disease, where TL is measured before diagnosis, have numerous advantages over retrospective studies, since they avoid the problems of reverse causality and differences in sample handling, but they are still subject to potential confounding. Studies of the genetic predictors of TL in relation to disease risk avoid these drawbacks, although they are not without limitations. Telomere biology is of major importance to the risk of common disease, but the complexities of the relationship are only now beginning to be understood.

Description
Keywords
Cardiovascular Diseases, Humans, Neoplasms, Obesity, Risk Factors, Smoking, Telomere, Telomere Homeostasis
Journal Title
Hum Genet
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
0340-6717
1432-1203
Volume Title
134
Publisher
Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Sponsorship
This research was supported by Cancer Research UK Programme Awards C588/A10589 and C588/A19167 (MMI and JHB) and C8197/A16565 (AMD and KAP) and the Isaac Newton Trust.