Telomere shortening in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Respir Med. 2009 Feb;103(2):230-6. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2008.09.003. Epub 2008 Oct 21.


Chronic oxidative stress and systemic inflammation contribute to the pathology of several chronic diseases, one among which is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, increased oxidative stress and inflammation have been observed to be negatively associated with telomere length (TL). Our aim was to investigate the TL in COPD patients in relation to pulmonary and extrapulmonary disease severity. Furthermore, based on experimental evidence suggesting the effects of oxidative stress on telomere shortening, we studied the association of TL with the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). One hundred and two COPD patients with moderate to severe COPD were studied and compared with 19 healthy age-matched controls. Patients were characterized by elevated levels of inflammatory markers (CRP, sTNF-receptors) and lower SOD-activity than the controls (p<0.001), irrespective of the SOD genotype. TL was negatively associated with age (p<0.01) and was significantly shorter in COPD patients than controls (p<0.05). Within the patient group age-adjusted TL variability could not be explained by lung function and smoking history but a modest association was found with the percentage of fat mass (p<0.05). These data provide evidence for a relationship between a disturbed oxidant/antioxidant balance and telomere shortening and indicate that preservation of fat mass may be protective in delaying telomere shortening in COPD patients.

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Catalase / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics*
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / genetics*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Smoking / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism*
  • Telomere*


  • Catalase
  • Superoxide Dismutase