Much telomere loss takes place during the period of most rapid growth when cell proliferation and potentially energy expenditure are high. Fast growth is linked to reduced longevity. Therefore, the effects of somatic cell proliferation on telomere loss and cell senescence might play a significant role in driving the growth-lifespan trade-off. While different species will have evolved a growth strategy that maximizes lifetime fitness, environmental conditions encountered during periods of growth will influence individual optima. In this review, we first discuss the routes by which altered cellular conditions could influence telomere loss in vertebrates, with a focus on oxidative stress in both in vitro and in vivo studies. We discuss the relationship between body growth and telomere length, and evaluate the empirical evidence that this relationship is generally negative. We further discuss the potentially conflicting hypotheses that arise when other factors are taken into account, and the further work that needs to be undertaken to disentangle confounding variables.This article is part of the theme issue 'Understanding diversity in telomere dynamics'.
Keywords: body size; compensatory growth; environment; longevity; nutrition; oxidative stress.
© 2018 The Author(s).