Shortened leukocyte telomere length is associated with reduced pulmonary function and greater subsequent decline in function in a sample of World Trade Center responders

Sci Rep. 2019 May 31;9(1):8148. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-44625-1.


The objective of this study was to examine whether shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is associated with more rapid pulmonary function decline in a longitudinal study of World Trade Center (WTC) responders. WTC responders (N = 284) participating in a monitoring study underwent blood sampling and were followed prospectively for spirometric outcomes. A single blood sample was taken to measure LTL using southern blotting. Outcomes included percent-predicted one-second forced expiratory volume (FEV1%), forced vital capacity (FVC%), and the FEV1/FVC ratio. In a subset, percent-predicted diffusing capacity (DLCO%) was also measured. Longitudinal modeling examined prospectively collected information over five years since blood was banked was used to examine the rate of change in pulmonary functioning over time. Severity of WTC exposure was assessed. Shorter LTL was associated with lower FEV1% and FVC% at baseline. For example, 29.9% of those with LTL <6.5 kbps had FEV1% <80% whereas only 12.4% of those with LTL ≥6.5 had FEV1% <80% (RR = 2.53, 95%CI = [1.70-3.76]). Lower DLCO% was also significantly associated with shorter LTL. Longitudinal models identified a prospective association between shorter LTL and greater yearly rates of decline in FEV1% (0.46%/year, 95%CI = [0.05-0.87]) and in the FEV1/FVC ratio (0.19%/year, 95%CI = [0.03-0.36]). There were no associations between severity of exposure and either LTL or pulmonary function. Longitudinal analyses revealed that shorter LTL, but not severity of WTC exposures, was associated with poorer pulmonary functioning and with greater subsequent decline in pulmonary functioning over time. These findings are consistent with the idea that shortened LTL may act as a biomarker for enhanced pulmonary vulnerability in the face of acute severe toxic inhalation exposures.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / cytology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Lung Injury / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / physiopathology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks*
  • Spirometry
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • Vital Capacity


  • Biomarkers