Telomere length declines with age, but relates to immune function independent of age in a wild passerine

R Soc Open Sci. 2022 Apr 27;9(4):212012. doi: 10.1098/rsos.212012. eCollection 2022 Apr.


Telomere length (TL) shortens with age but telomere dynamics can relate to fitness components independent of age. Immune function often relates to such fitness components and can also interact with telomeres. Studying the link between TL and immune function may therefore help us understand telomere-fitness associations. We assessed the relationships between erythrocyte TL and four immune indices (haptoglobin, natural antibodies (NAbs), complement activity (CA) and heterophil-lymphocyte (HL) ratio; n = 477-589), from known-aged individuals of a wild passerine (Malurus coronatus). As expected, we find that TL significantly declined with age. To verify whether associations between TL and immune function were independent of parallel age-related changes (e.g. immunosenescence), we statistically controlled for sampling age and used within-subject centring of TL to separate relationships within or between individuals. We found that TL positively predicted CA at the between-individual level (individuals with longer average TL had higher CA), but no other immune indices. By contrast, age predicted the levels of NAbs and HL ratio, allowing inference that respective associations between TL and age with immune indices are independent. Any links existing between TL and fitness are therefore unlikely to be strongly mediated by innate immune function, while TL and immune indices appear independent expressions of individual heterogeneity.

Keywords: ageing; avian; constitutive; immune; quality; senescence.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5953396
  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.v6wwpzgwp