Telomere length dynamics in human lymphocyte subpopulations measured by flow cytometry

Nat Biotechnol. 1998 Aug;16(8):743-7. doi: 10.1038/nbt0898-743.


To measure the average length of telomere repeats at chromosome ends in individual cells we developed a flow cytometry method using fluorescence in situ hybridization (flow FISH) with labeled peptide nucleic acid (PNA) probes. Results of flow FISH measurements correlated with results of conventional telomere length measurements by Southern blot analysis (R = 0.9). Consistent differences in telomere length in CD8+ T-cell subsets were identified. Naive and memory CD4+ T lymphocytes in normal adults differed by around 2.5 kb in telomere length, in agreement with known replicative shortening of telomeres in lymphocytes in vivo. T-cell clones grown in vitro showed stabilization of telomere length after an initial decline and rare clones capable of growing beyond 100 population doublings showed variable telomere length. These results show that flow FISH can be used to measure specific nucleotide repeat sequences in single cells and indicate that the very large replicative potential of lymphocytes is only indirectly related to telomere length.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blotting, Southern
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / ultrastructure
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / ultrastructure
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Separation / methods
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fetal Blood
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Nucleic Acid Probes
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / ultrastructure*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*


  • Nucleic Acid Probes