The heritability of telomere length among the elderly and oldest-old

Twin Res Hum Genet. 2005 Oct;8(5):433-9. doi: 10.1375/183242705774310141.


A tight link exists between telomere length and both population doublings of a cell culture and age of a given organism. The more population doublings of the cell culture or the higher the age of the organism, the shorter the telomeres. The proposed model for telomere shortening, called the end replication problem, explains why the telomere erodes at each cellular turnover. Telomere length is regulated by a number of associated proteins through a number of different signaling pathways. The determinants of telomere length were studied using whole blood samples from 287 twin pairs aged 73 to 95 years. Structural equation models revealed that a model including additive genetic effects and non-shared environment was the best fitting model and that telomere length was moderately heritable, with an estimate that was sensitive to the telomere length standardization procedure. Sex-specific analyses showed lower heritability in males, although not statistically significant, which is in line with our earlier finding of a sex difference in telomere dynamics among the elderly and oldest-old.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*