Telomere length and the risk of atrial fibrillation: insights into the role of biological versus chronological aging

Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2014 Dec;7(6):1026-32. doi: 10.1161/CIRCEP.114.001781. Epub 2014 Nov 8.


Background: Advanced age is the most important risk factor for atrial fibrillation (AF); however, the mechanism remains unknown. Telomeres, regions of DNA that shorten with cell division, are considered reliable markers of biological aging. We sought to examine the association between leukocyte telomere length (LTL) and incident AF in a large population-based cohort using direct LTL measurements and genetic data. To further explore our findings, we compared atrial cell telomere length and LTL in cardiac surgery patients.

Methods and results: Mean LTL and the TERT rs2736100 single nucleotide polymorphism were assessed as predictors of incident AF in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS). Among the surgical patients, within subject comparison of atrial cell telomere length versus LTL was assessed. Among 1639 CHS participants, we observed no relationship between mean LTL and incident AF before and after adjustment for potential confounders (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.09; 95% confidence interval: 0.92-1.29; P=0.299); chronologic age remained strongly associated with AF in the same model. No association was observed between the TERT rs2736100 single nucleotide polymorphism and incident AF (adjusted hazard ratio: 0.95; 95% confidence interval: 0.88-1.04; P=0.265). In 35 cardiac surgery patients (26 with AF), atrial cell telomere length was longer than LTL (1.19 ± 0.20 versus 1.02 ± 0.25 [T/S ratio], P<0.001), a finding that remained consistent within the AF subgroup.

Conclusions: Our study revealed no evidence of an association between LTL and incident AF and no evidence of relative atrial cell telomere shortening in AF. Chronological aging independent of biological markers of aging is the primary risk factor for AF.

Keywords: aging; atrial fibrillation; genetics.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / genetics*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / surgery
  • California / epidemiology
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures
  • Cellular Senescence*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Leukocytes / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Telomerase / genetics*
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Time Factors


  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase