Background: Telomeres play a key role in the maintenance of chromosome integrity. Short telomeres are linked to age-associated diseases and cancer. Our aim was to determine the decrease rate of relative telomere length (RTL) over 10 years and whether this rate was influenced by age, sex and smoking behaviour.
Methods: We compared RTL in 510 sample pairs from the longitudinal population-based Bruneck Study, which were collected in 1995 and recollected in 2005, and additionally determined RTL from 159 participants who died during follow-up. RTL were determined by a high-throughput real-time PCR assay and by applying a mathematical model.
Results: The telomeres shortened, on average, by 455 bp over 10 years. The RTL shortening rate was highly correlated with baseline RTL (r = 0.674, P < 0.001). Participants who died within the observed period had considerably shorter telomeres than those who survived (median RTL of 0.98 vs 1.49; P < 0.001). In contrast to previous studies, smoking behaviour had no influence on RTL and on telomere shortening.
Conclusion: This is the first comprehensive longitudinal study of individuals who were, on average, 60 at baseline, and who were re-evaluated 10 years later. Our methodology proved to be a reliable tool for a rapid, accurate and cost-efficient determination of RTL with a low amount of DNA.