Rationale: Asthma is prospectively associated with age-related chronic diseases and mortality, suggesting the hypothesis that asthma may relate to a general, multisystem phenotype of accelerated aging.
Objectives: To test whether chronic asthma is associated with a proposed biomarker of accelerated aging, leukocyte telomere length.
Methods: Asthma was ascertained prospectively in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study cohort (n = 1,037) at nine in-person assessments spanning ages 9-38 years. Leukocyte telomere length was measured at ages 26 and 38 years. Asthma was classified as life-course-persistent, childhood-onset not meeting criteria for persistence, and adolescent/adult-onset. We tested associations between asthma and leukocyte telomere length using regression models. We tested for confounding of asthma-leukocyte telomere length associations using covariate adjustment. We tested serum C-reactive protein and white blood cell counts as potential mediators of asthma-leukocyte telomere length associations.
Measurements and main results: Study members with life-course-persistent asthma had shorter leukocyte telomere length as compared with sex- and age-matched peers with no reported asthma. In contrast, leukocyte telomere length in study members with childhood-onset and adolescent/adult-onset asthma was not different from leukocyte telomere length in peers with no reported asthma. Adjustment for life histories of obesity and smoking did not change results. Study members with life-course-persistent asthma had elevated blood eosinophil counts. Blood eosinophil count mediated 29% of the life-course-persistent asthma-leukocyte telomere length association.
Conclusions: Life-course-persistent asthma is related to a proposed biomarker of accelerated aging, possibly via systemic eosinophilic inflammation. Life histories of asthma can inform studies of aging.
Keywords: aging; asthma; developmental phenotype; longitudinal; telomere.