Does oxidative stress shorten telomeres in vivo? A review

Biol Lett. 2017 Dec;13(12):20170463. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0463.


The length of telomeres, the protective caps of chromosomes, is increasingly used as a biomarker of individual health state because it has been shown to predict chances of survival in a range of endothermic species including humans. Oxidative stress is presumed to be a major cause of telomere shortening, but most evidence to date comes from in vitro cultured cells. The importance of oxidative stress as a determinant of telomere shortening in vivo remains less clear and has recently been questioned. We, therefore, reviewed correlative and experimental studies investigating the links between oxidative stress and telomere shortening in vivo While correlative studies provide equivocal support for a connection between oxidative stress and telomere attrition (10 of 18 studies), most experimental studies published so far (seven of eight studies) partially or fully support this hypothesis. Yet, this link seems to be tissue-dependent in some cases, or restricted to particular categories of individual (e.g. sex-dependent) in other cases. More experimental studies, especially those decreasing antioxidant protection or increasing pro-oxidant generation, are required to further our understanding of the importance of oxidative stress in determining telomere length in vivo Studies comparing growing versus adult individuals, or proliferative versus non-proliferative tissues would provide particularly important insights.

Keywords: DNA damage; ageing; antioxidant; oxidative stress; senescence; telomere.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Birds / genetics
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Telomere Shortening*


  • Antioxidants
  • Biomarkers
  • Reactive Oxygen Species