Short leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is associated with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). Mendelian randomisation studies, using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with short LTL, infer a causal role of LTL in ASCVD. Recent results, using the blood-and-muscle model, indicate that higher early life LTL attrition, as estimated by the ratio between LTL and skeletal muscle telomere length (MTL), rather than short LTL at conception, as estimated by MTL, should be responsible of the ASCVD-LTL connection. We combined LTL and MTL measurements and SNPs profiling in 402 individuals to determine if 15 SNPs classically described as associated with short LTL at adult age were rather responsible for higher LTL attrition during early life than for shorter LTL at birth. Two of these SNPs (rs12696304 and rs10936599) were associated with LTL in our cohort (p = 0.027 and p = 0.025, respectively). These SNPs, both located on the TERC gene, were associated with the LTL/MTL ratio (p = 0.007 and p = 0.037, respectively), but not with MTL (p = 0.78 and p = 0.32 respectively). These results suggest that SNPs located on genes coding for telomere maintenance proteins may contribute to a higher LTL attrition during the highly replicative first years of life and have an impact later on the development of ASCVD.
Keywords: SNPs; TERC; atherosclerosis; cohort studies; telomere length maintenance.