Telomeres are genetically conserved nucleoprotein complexes located at the ends of chromosomes that preserve genomic stability. In large mammals, somatic cell telomeres shorten with age, owing to the end replication problem and lack of telomere-lengthening events (e.g. telomerase and ALT activity). Therefore, telomere length reflects cellular replicative reserve and mitotic potential. Environmental insults can accelerate telomere attrition in response to cell division and DNA damage. As such, telomere shortening is considered one of the major hallmarks of ageing. Much effort has been dedicated to understanding the environmental perturbations that accelerate telomere attrition and therapeutic strategies to preserve or extend telomeres. As telomere dynamics seem to reflect cumulative cellular stress, telomere length could serve as a biomarker of animal welfare. The assessment of telomere dynamics (i.e. rate of shortening) in conjunction with telomere-regulating genes and telomerase activity in racehorses could monitor long-term animal health, yet it could also provide some unique opportunities to address particular limitations with the use of other animal models in telomere research. Considering the ongoing efforts to optimise the health and welfare of equine athletes, the purpose of this review is to discuss the potential utility of assessing telomere length in Thoroughbred racehorses. A brief review of telomere biology in large and small mammals will be provided, followed by discussion on the biological implications of telomere length and environmental (e.g. lifestyle) factors that accelerate or attenuate telomere attrition. Finally, the utility of quantifying telomere dynamics in horses will be offered with directions for future research.
Keywords: Equus caballus; ageing; animal model; racehorse; shelterin; telomerase.
© 2019 Stichting International Foundation for Animal Genetics.