Telomere attrition is associated with declines in medial temporal lobe volume and white matter microstructure in functionally independent older adults

Neurobiol Aging. 2018 Sep;69:68-75. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2018.04.021. Epub 2018 May 8.


Although leukocyte telomere length (TL) shortens over the lifespan and is associated with diseases of aging, little is known about the relationships between TL, memory, and brain structure. Sixty-nine functionally normal older adults (mean age = 71.7) were assessed at 2 time points (mean interval = 2.9 years). Linear mixed models assessed relationships between TL and hippocampal volume, fractional anisotropy, and mean diffusivity (MD) of the fornix and verbal and visual episodic memory. Unstandardized coefficients are reported in the following, and p values are not corrected for multiple comparisons. A negative baseline trend was observed between TL and fornix MD (b = -0.01, p = 0.06), but no other cross-sectional associations were significant (ps > 0.16). Greater TL shortening at follow-up was associated with greater hippocampal volume loss (b = 27.09, p < 0.001), even after controlling for global volume loss (b = 10.83, p = 0.002). Greater telomere attrition was also associated with larger increases in fornix MD (b = -0.01, p = 0.012) and decreases in fornix fractional anisotropy (b = 0.004, p = 0.002). TL was not associated with changes in episodic memory (ps > 0.23). These relationships may reflect neurobiological influences that affect both TL and brain structure, as well as the effect of TL on brain aging via mechanisms such as cellular senescence and inflammation.

Keywords: Aging; Biomarker; Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI); Fornix; Hippocampus; Longitudinal; MRI; Memory; Neuroimaging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Atrophy
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Telomere Shortening*
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology*
  • White Matter / pathology*