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Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences located at the end of chromosomes, which are associated to biological aging, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality. Lipid and fatty acid metabolism have been associated with telomere shortening. We have conducted an in-depth study investigating the association of metabolic biomarkers with telomere length (LTL). We performed an association analysis of 226 metabolic biomarkers with LTL using data from 11 775 individuals from six independent population-based cohorts (BBMRI-NL consortium). Metabolic biomarkers include lipoprotein lipids and subclasses, fatty acids, amino acids, glycolysis measures and ketone bodies. LTL was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction or FlowFISH. Linear regression analysis was performed adjusting for age, sex, lipid-lowering medication and cohort-specific covariates (model 1) and additionally for body mass index (BMI) and smoking (model 2), followed by inverse variance-weighted meta-analyses (significance threshold pmeta = 6.5x10-4). We identified four metabolic biomarkers positively associated with LTL, including two cholesterol to lipid ratios in small VLDL (S-VLDL-C % and S-VLDL-ce %) and two omega-6 fatty acid ratios (FAw6/FA and LA/FA). After additionally adjusting for BMI and smoking, these metabolic biomarkers remained associated with LTL with similar effect estimates. In addition, cholesterol esters in very small VLDL (XS-VLDL-ce) became significantly associated with LTL (p = 3.6x10-4). We replicated the association of FAw6/FA with LTL in an independent dataset of 7845 individuals (p = 1.9x10-4). To conclude, we identified multiple metabolic biomarkers involved in lipid and fatty acid metabolism that may be involved in LTL biology. Longitudinal studies are needed to exclude reversed causation.

Original publication




Journal article


Human molecular genetics

Publication Date



Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus MC University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


BBMRI Metabolomics Consortium