Neighborhood characteristics and leukocyte telomere length: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis

Health Place. 2014 Jul;28:167-72. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.04.009. Epub 2014 May 22.


Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Telomeres get shorter each time a cell divides, and critically shortened telomeres trigger cellular senescence. Thus, telomere length is hypothesized to be a biological marker of aging. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between neighborhood characteristics and leukocyte telomere length. Using data from a subsample (n=978) of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, a population-based study of women and men aged 45-84, we found that neighborhood social environment (but not neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage) was associated with telomere length. Respondents who lived in neighborhoods characterized by lower aesthetic quality, safety, and social cohesion had shorter telomeres than those who lived in neighborhoods with a more salutary social environment, even after adjusting for individual-level socioeconomic status and biomedical and lifestyle factors related to telomere length. Telomere length may be one biological mechanism by which neighborhood characteristics influence an individual׳s risk of disease and death.

Keywords: Cell aging; Neighborhood social environment; Neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage; Telomere length.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • African Americans
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Atherosclerosis / blood*
  • Biomarkers
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Telomere / physiology*


  • Biomarkers