Shorter telomere length is associated with COVID-19 hospitalization and with persistence of radiographic lung abnormalities

Immun Ageing. 2022 Aug 22;19(1):38. doi: 10.1186/s12979-022-00294-9.


Background: Age and comorbidity are the main determinants of COVID-19 outcome. Shorter leukocyte telomere length (TL), a hallmark of biological aging, has been associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes. We sought to determine TL in patients with severe COVID-19 requiring hospitalization to analyze whether clinical outcomes and post-COVID-19 manifestations are associated with shorter TL.

Results: We analyzed 251 patients with PCR-confirmed COVID-19, hospitalized in the first months of the pandemics. We determined TL in PBL at admission by quantitative-PCR (qPCR) analysis in patients. A healthy cohort from the same area with a similar age range (n = 169) was used to calculate TL Z-scores. After hospital discharge, 144 COVID-19 survivors were followed-up for persistent COVID-19 manifestations. A second TL determination was performed in a smaller group of 63 patients 1 year later and compared with baseline TL. Hospitalized COVID-19 patients had a decreased baseline age-adjusted TL Z-score compared to the reference group. No differences in Z-scores were observed in patients with different COVID-19 outcomes, classified as WHO ordinal scores. In 144 patients, followed for a median of 8 months, post-COVID manifestations were not associated to differences in TL. Persistence of lung radiographic abnormalities was associated with shorter baseline TL. In patients with a second TL determination, further telomere shortening (TS) was observed in 35% and telomere lengthening in 49%. Patients with further TS had suffered a more severe disease.

Conclusion: Shorter TL is associated with COVID-19 hospitalization but not with hospital clinical outcomes nor with persistent post-COVID-19 manifestations. Delayed resolution of radiographic lung abnormalities was also associated with shorter TL.

Keywords: COVID-19; Pulmonary fibrosis; SARS-CoV-2; Telomere length.