Telomere length (TL) is considered an indicator of aging and age-related diseases, but longitudinal studies on TL changes and mortality are few. We therefore analyzed TL and longitudinal changes in TL in relation to all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality in 247 elderly Swedish men. TL was determined by the qPCR method at ages 71 and 81 and subsequent mortality cases were identified from the Swedish cause-of-death registry. Cox proportional hazard ratios were calculated during a mean follow-up of 7.4 years, during which 178 deaths occurred. Short telomeres at baseline was strongly associated with mortality risks, with a 40 to 70% increased risk of all-cause mortality, and a 2-fold increased risk of cancer mortality. Longitudinal changes in TL revealed shortening in 83% of individuals, whilst 10% extended their telomeres. TL attrition did not predict all-cause or cancer mortality, but we found a 60% decreased risk for cardiovascular mortality in those who shortened their telomeres. Our data show an increased risk of mortality in individuals with short baseline telomeres, but no relations to all-cause, and cancer mortality for changes in TL. Intriguingly, our data indicate lower risk of cardiovascular mortality with shortening of telomeres. The latter should be interpreted cautiously.
Keywords: cause-specific mortality; cohort study; longitudinal changes; mortality; telomere length.