A study of telomere length, arsenic exposure, and arsenic toxicity in a Bangladeshi cohort

Environ Res. 2018 Jul:164:346-355. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.03.005. Epub 2018 Mar 20.


Background: Chronic arsenic exposure is associated with increased risk for arsenical skin lesions, cancer, and other adverse health outcomes. One potential mechanism of arsenic toxicity is telomere dysfunction. However, prior epidemiological studies of arsenic exposure, telomere length (TL), and skin lesion are small and cross-sectional. We investigated the associations between arsenic exposure and TL and between baseline TL and incident skin lesion risk among individuals participating in the Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study in Bangladesh (2000-2009).

Methods: Quantitative PCR was used to measure the average TL of peripheral blood DNA collected at baseline. The association between baseline arsenic exposure (well water and urine) and TL was estimated in a randomly-selected subcohort (n = 1469). A nested case-control study (466 cases and 464 age- and sex-matched controls) was used to estimate the association between baseline TL and incident skin lesion risk (diagnosed < 8 years after baseline).

Results: No association was observed between arsenic exposure (water or urine) and TL. Among incident skin lesion cases and matched controls, we observed higher skin lesion risk among individuals with shorter TL (Ptrend = 1.5 × 10-5) with odds ratios of 2.60, 1.59, and 1.10 for the first (shortest), second, and third TL quartiles compared to the fourth (longest).

Conclusions: Arsenic exposure was not associated with TL among Bangladeshi adults, suggesting that leukocyte TL may not reflect a primary mode of action for arsenic's toxicity. However, short TL was associated with increased skin lesion risk, and may be a biomarker of arsenic susceptibility modifying arsenic's effect on skin lesion risk.

Keywords: Arsenic; Bangladesh; Drinking water; Skin lesion; Telomere length.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arsenic* / toxicity
  • Bangladesh
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Telomere* / drug effects


  • Arsenic