Telomere length measurement by qPCR - Summary of critical factors and recommendations for assay design

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Jan;99:271-278. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.10.005. Epub 2018 Oct 10.


Research in the last decade has explored the length of telomeres, the protective ends of eukaryotic chromosomes, as a biomarker for the cumulative effects of environmental exposures and life experiences as well as a risk factor for major diseases. With a growing interest in telomere biology across biomedical, epidemiological and public health research, it is critical to ensure that the measurement of telomere length is performed with high precision and accuracy. Of the several major methods utilized to determine telomere length, quantitative PCR (qPCR) remains the most cost-effective and suitable method for large-scale epidemiological and population studies. However, inconsistencies in recent reports utilizing the qPCR method highlight the need for a careful methodological analysis of each step of this process. In this review, we summarize each critical step in qPCR telomere length assay, including sample type selection, sample collection, storage, processing issues and assay procedures. We provide guidance and recommendations for each step based on current knowledge. It is clear that a collaborative and rigorous effort is needed to characterize and resolve existing issues related to sample storage, both before and after DNA extraction, as well as the impact of different extraction protocols, reagents and post extraction processing across all tissue types (e.g. blood, saliva, buccal swabs, etc.) to provide the needed data upon which best practices for TL analyses can be agreed upon. Additionally, we suggest that the whole telomere research community be invited to collaborate on the development and implementation of standardized protocols for the assay itself as well as for reporting in scientific journals. The existing evidence provides substantial support for the continuation of telomere research across a range of different exposures and health outcomes. However, as with any technological or methodologic advance in science, reproducibility, reliability and rigor need to be established to ensure the highest quality research.

Keywords: Aging; Analytical factors; Biomarker; Preanalytical factors; Quantitative PCR; Telomere length measurement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / standards
  • Reference Standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Specimen Handling / methods*
  • Specimen Handling / standards
  • Telomere / physiology
  • Telomere Homeostasis / genetics
  • Telomere Homeostasis / physiology*