Telomeres and COVID-19

FASEB J. 2020 Jun;34(6):7247-7252. doi: 10.1096/fj.202001025. Epub 2020 May 19.


The medical, public health, and scientific communities are grappling with monumental imperatives to contain COVID-19, develop effective vaccines, identify efficacious treatments for the infection and its complications, and find biomarkers that detect patients at risk of severe disease. The focus of this communication is on a potential biomarker, short telomere length (TL), that might serve to identify patients more likely to die from the SARS-CoV-2 infection, regardless of age. The common thread linking these patients is lymphopenia, which largely reflects a decline in the numbers of CD4/CD8 T cells but not B cells. These findings are consistent with data that lymphocyte TL dynamics impose a limit on T-cell proliferation. They suggest that T-cell lymphopoiesis might stall in individuals with short TL who are infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: COVID-19; T cells; Telomeres; lymphopenia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus*
  • Biomarkers
  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • COVID-19
  • Cell Division
  • Coronavirus Infections / genetics
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology
  • Coronavirus Infections / mortality
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Lymphopenia / etiology*
  • Lymphopenia / pathology
  • Lymphopoiesis
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / genetics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / mortality
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / ultrastructure*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • Telomere Shortening*


  • Biomarkers