Cross-Generational Effects of Parental Age on Offspring Longevity: Are Telomeres an Important Underlying Mechanism?

Bioessays. 2020 Sep;42(9):e1900227. doi: 10.1002/bies.201900227. Epub 2020 Jul 30.


Parental age at offspring conception often influences offspring longevity, but the mechanisms underlying this link are poorly understood. One mechanism that may be important is telomeres, highly conserved, repetitive sections of non-coding DNA that form protective caps at chromosome ends and are often positively associated with longevity. Here, the potential pathways by which the age of the parents at the time of conception may impact offspring telomeres are described first, including direct effects on parental gamete telomeres and indirect effects on offspring telomere loss during pre- or post-natal development. Then a surge of recent studies demonstrating the effects of parental age on offspring telomeres in diverse taxa are reviewed. In doing so, important areas for future research and experimental approaches that will enhance the understanding of how and when these effects likely occur are highlighted. It is concluded by considering the potential evolutionary consequences of parental age on offspring telomeres.

Keywords: Lansing effect; cross-generational effects; parental effects; senescence; telomeres; transgenerational effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Longevity* / genetics
  • Parents
  • Telomere Shortening
  • Telomere* / genetics