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Genome-wide association study finds new genes for biological ageing

28 March 2013

Researchers collaborating in the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Ageing (NCHA), the UMCG and the University of Leicester have charted new genes regulating telomere length during an extensive genome-wide association study (GWAS). At the UMCG and in Leicester the telomere lengths of Dutch participants in large cohort studies of the Erasmus MC, the Dutch Twins Register of the VU, the Leiden Lang Levensstudie of the LUMC and the PREVEND study of the UMCG were determined. A large number of genetic variations was searched for their association with telomere lengths. New genes were found to regulate telomere length. The researchers also found that these genes are associated with the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. This knowledge is relevant to study the genetics of telomeres and their role in ageing and illness. The researchers published their results on March 27 in the leading journal Nature Genetics.

Telomeres are situated at the ends of chromosomes and become shorter as you grow older. Telomere lengths were determined in the blood of a large number of elderly people. A shorter telomere length in blood cells is associated with accelerated biological ageing, an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and a shorter life expectancy of elderly. The Dutch researchers had previously found that hereditary factors and damage to genetic material during ageing regulates the telomere length.

Large groups

Studying the relationships between telomere length, the risk of disease, and underlying biological mechanisms, requires that telomere lengths are very accurately determined. The usual way is to use blood samples freshly taken from subjects. This method is, however, not feasible to study the thousands of patients that are included in the large genome-wide association studies. The technique that was applied in the present study could be used in large numbers of patients. Dutch researchers are experts in epidemiological research in large patient cohorts and in the research of telomere function. Based on the results obtained in these large cohorts, the researchers identified five new genetic regions that play a role in the regulation and function of telomeres.

Link to the abstract of the paper:

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.32 p.m.
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