Eukaryotic chromosomes end with telomeres, which shorten with cellular ageing. We investigated whether atherosclerosis is associated with systemic evidence of accelerated cellular ageing. We compared mean length of terminal restriction fragments (TRF), a measure of average telomere size, in leucocyte DNA of ten patients with severe coronary artery disease (CAD) with that of 20 controls without CAD. Adjusting for age and sex, cases had mean TRF lengths of 303 (SD 90) base pairs shorter than those of controls (p=0.002)-ie, equivalent in size to individuals with no CAD who are 8.6 years older. Although this is a pilot study, the findings could be relevant to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis.