Telomeres are subject to age related shortening which can be accelerated by oxidative stress and inflammation. Many studies have reported an inverse correlation between telomere length and survival, but such inverse correlation has not been always confirmed in different populations. We analyzed the trend of Leukocyte Telomere Length (LTL) as a function of age in a cohort of 516 subjects aged 65-106 years from Southern Italy. The trend of LTL obtained was quite similar to demographic survival curves reported with data of western societies. We observed a decrease of LTL after 70 years of age and then an increase after 92 years, in agreement with the sharp decrease of survival after 70 years of age and its increase after 90 years, due to the deceleration of mortality at old ages. Our data suggest that a generalized LTL attrition after 70 years of age, associated to organismal decline, affects most of the population. Such generalized attrition may exacerbate senescence in these subjects, predisposing them to high mortality risk. Conversely, the subjects with better physical conditions, experience a lower attrition and, consequently, a delayed senescence, contributing to the deceleration of mortality which has been observed among very old subjects in modern societies.
Keywords: aging; lifespan; mortality deceleration; telomere.