A genome-wide association study identifies a locus on chromosome 14q21 as a predictor of leukocyte telomere length and as a marker of susceptibility for bladder cancer

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2011 Apr;4(4):514-21. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-11-0063. Epub 2011 Apr 2.


Telomeres play a critical role in maintaining genome integrity. Telomere shortening is associated with the risk of many aging-related diseases. Classic twin studies have shown that genetic components may contribute up to 80% of the heritability of telomere length. In the study we report here that we used a multistage genome-wide association study to identify genetic determinants of telomere length. The mean telomere length in peripheral blood leukocytes was measured by quantitative real-time PCR. We first analyzed 300,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 459 healthy controls, finding 15,120 SNPs associated with telomere length at P < 0.05. We then validated these SNPs in two independent populations comprising 890 and 270 healthy controls, respectively. Four SNPs, including rs398652 on 14q21, were associated with telomere length across all three populations (pooled P values of <10(-5)). The variant alleles of these SNPs were associated with longer telomere length. We then analyzed the association of these SNPs with the risk of bladder cancer in a large case-control study. The variant allele of rs398652 was associated with a significantly reduced risk of bladder cancer (odds ratio = 0.81; 95% confidence interval, 0.67-0.97; P = 0.025), consistent with the correlation of this variant allele with longer telomeres. We then conducted a mediation analysis to examine whether the association between rs398652 and reduced bladder cancer risk is mediated by telomere length, finding that telomere length was a significant mediator of the relationship between rs398652 and bladder cancer (P = 0.013), explaining 14% of the effect. In conclusion, we found that the SNP rs398652 on 14q21 was associated with longer telomere length and a reduced risk of bladder cancer and that a portion of the effect of this SNP on bladder cancer risk was mediated by telomere length.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 14 / genetics*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Genotype
  • Hematologic Tests
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / genetics*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor