An article published online on September 27, 2012 in the journal Cell Reports describes the finding of researchers in Madrid of an association between the rate of increase in the percentage of short telomeres over a lifetime and the length of life of individual animals. Telomeres, which are sequences of DNA that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes, shorten with the age of a cell and are a marker of cellular aging. While studies have correlated shorter telomeres with diseases or their risk factors, the current study's findings are the first to use telomere measurements to predict the life expectancy of mammals.
"Aberrantly short telomeres result in decreased longevity in both humans and mice with defective telomere maintenance," write María Blasco and her associates at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. "Normal populations of humans and mice present high interindividual variation in telomere length, but it is unknown whether this is associated with their lifespan potential."
In contrast with studies that evaluated telomere length once over time in a large group of individuals (transversal population studies) Dr Blasco and colleagues measured telomere length throughout the lifespan of two varieties of mice. "In the transversal studies, it appears that individuals with short telomeres have a significantly increased probability of developing illnesses, including cancer," Dr Blasco explained. "But this information is not applicable to a specific individual."
The team found that mice that lived longer were those that had less telomere shortening over time in comparison with other animals, rather than longer telomeres at any given age.
"The important thing is not so much the long telomeres at any given time as the tendency or the evolution of the length of the telomeres over time," lead author Elsa Vera concluded.
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