Shortening of chromosomal telomeres is a consequence of cell division and is a biological factor related to cellular aging and potentially to more rapid organismal biological aging.
To determine whether shorter telomere length (TL), as measured in human blood samples, is associated with the development of Alzheimer disease and mortality.
We studied available stored leukocyte DNA from a community-based study of aging using real-time polymerase chain reaction analysis to determine mean TL in our modification of a method measuring the ratio of telomere sequence to single-copy gene sequence.
A multiethnic community-based study of aging and dementia.
One thousand nine hundred eighty-three subjects 65 years or older. Mean (SD) age at blood draw was 78.3 (6.9) years; at death, 86.0 (7.4) years. Median follow-up for mortality was 9.3 years; 190 (9.6%) developed incident dementia.
The TL was inversely related to age and shorter in men than women. Persons dying during follow-up had a shorter TL compared with survivors (mean [SD], 6218  vs 6491  base pairs [bp] [P < .001]), even after adjustment for age, sex, education, and apolipoprotein E genotype. Individuals who developed dementia had significantly shorter TL (mean [SD], 6131  bp for prevalent cases and 6315  bp for incident cases) compared with those remaining dementia-free (6431  bp). Cox-regression analyses showed that shorter TL was a risk for earlier onset of dementia (P = .05), but stratified analyses for sex showed that this association of age at onset of dementia with shorter TL was significant in women only.
Our findings suggest that shortened leukocyte TL is associated with risks for dementia and mortality and may therefore be a marker of biological aging.