Telomere length (TL) trajectories in somatic tissues during human growth and development are poorly understood. We examined a blood-and-muscle model during early life, focusing on TL trajectories in leukocytes, representing the highly proliferative hematopoietic system, and skeletal muscle, a minimally proliferative tissue. Leukocyte TL (LTL) and skeletal muscle TL (MTL) were measured in 28 fetuses and 73 children. LTL and MTL were highly variable across individuals (sd: fetal LTL = 0.72 kb, MTL = 0.72 kb; children LTL = 0.81 kb, MTL = 0.82 kb) but were highly correlated within individuals (fetuses, r = 0.76, P < 0.0001; children, r = 0.87, P < 0.0001). LTL was shorter than MTL in fetuses (10.63 vs. 11.01 kb; P = 0.0004) and children (8.46 vs. 9.40 kb; <0.0001). The LTL-MTL gap was smaller in fetuses than children. TL in children was inversely correlated with body mass index (BMI) (LTL: -0.047 ± 0.016 kb/BMI, P < 0.005; MTL: -0.037 ± 0.017 kb/BMI, P = 0.03). We conclude that variations in TL across adults and differences in TL between somatic tissues are largely established in early life. Because TL plays a significant role in aging-related diseases, insight into the factors that fashion TL in somatic tissues during early development should contribute to an understanding of the relationship of TL with these disease and longevity in humans.-Sabharwal, S., Verhulst, S., Guirguis, G., Kark, J. D., Labat, C., Roche, N. E., Martimucci, K., Patel, K., Heller, D. S., Kimura, M., Chuang, D., Chuang, A., Benetos, A., Aviv, A. Telomere length dynamics in early life: the blood-and-muscle model.
Keywords: children; fetus; leukocytes.