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Researchers Link Telomere Length With Alzheimer's Disease

A new study appearing in PLOS One this week has linked telomere shortening in certain immune cells to signs of Alzheimer's disease in the brain. Telomeres, the protective caps at the end of chromosomes, progressively shorten with each cell division. Their attrition is an established marker of biological aging and has been associated with susceptibility to age-related disease, but the mechanisms underlying that association is unclear. A team led by scientists from the University of Oxford has now compared leukocyte telomere length (LTL) with brain MRIs and electronic medical record data for around 31,000 UK Biobank participants. They found that longer LTL is associated overall with a reduced incidence of dementia, as well as a number of MRI phenotypes including larger volumes of grey matter and larger hippocampi. "Associations between LTL and brain structure provide a mechanism explaining the protective association of longer LTL on dementia incidence we observed," the study's authors conclude. "Accelerated cellular aging may represent a biological pathway to neurodegenerative disease."