Telomere shortening - a marker of cellular senescence



Telomeres are complexes composed of proteins and nucleotides of TTAGGG repeats at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes [1-3], see figure. Due to the mechanism of replication, telomeres shorten with every cell division, ticking as a cellular “molecular clock” [1].


Stressful conditions forcing organs or tissues to waste proliferative potential may lead to earlier ageing onset and earlier shortening of telomere length [1]. As well as unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking, psychological stress, poor diet and physical inactivity [3-5], shorter telomere length has been associated with diseases including cardiovascular disease, dementia or autoimmune diseases (e.g. systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis) [1,3,6]. In most cases, a link between telomere shortening and a constant high level of oxidative stress was observed [1].


Information about the role of telomere in MS remains limited…


  • A study from Germany found shorter telomere length in patients with MS (n=138) compared with healthy controls (n=120) across all stages of the disease, but no association between telomere length and disability progression [7], see figure.


  • An association between shorter telomere length and greater disability and brain atrophy independent of chronological age and MS disease duration was reported from a US cohort study (n=516) [3].


Figure 1: Telomeres are the protective end-complexes at the termini of the eukaryotic cell chromosomes

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(Source picture: Bayer library, adapted)


Figure 2 Mean (SD) telomere length for healthy controls and patients with MS, p < 0.001 [7]

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