Leukocyte Telomere Length and All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality: Results From Individual-Participant-Data Meta-Analysis of 2 Large Prospective Cohort Studies

Am J Epidemiol. 2017 Jun 15;185(12):1317-1326. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww210.


We studied the associations of leukocyte telomere length (LTL) with all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality in 12,199 adults participating in 2 population-based prospective cohort studies from Europe (ESTHER) and the United States (Nurses' Health Study). Blood samples were collected in 1989-1990 (Nurses' Health Study) and 2000-2002 (ESTHER). LTL was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. We calculated z scores for LTL to standardize LTL measurements across the cohorts. Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to calculate relative mortality according to continuous levels and quintiles of LTL z scores. The hazard ratios obtained from each cohort were subsequently pooled by meta-analysis. Overall, 2,882 deaths were recorded during follow-up (Nurses' Health Study, 1989-2010; ESTHER, 2000-2015). LTL was inversely associated with age in both cohorts. After adjustment for age, a significant inverse trend of LTL with all-cause mortality was observed in both cohorts. In random-effects meta-analysis, age-adjusted hazard ratios for the shortest LTL quintile compared with the longest were 1.23 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.04, 1.46) for all-cause mortality, 1.29 (95% CI: 0.83, 2.00) for cardiovascular mortality, and 1.10 (95% CI: 0.88, 1.37) for cancer mortality. In this study population with an age range of 43-75 years, we corroborated previous evidence suggesting that LTL predicts all-cause mortality beyond its association with age.

Keywords: aging; all-cause mortality; cancer mortality; cardiovascular disease mortality; cohort studies; leukocytes; telomere length.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cause of Death
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • United States