Telomere Shortening Tied to Alzheimer's in Brain Scan Findings


A recent study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE suggests that Alzheimer's disease-related alterations in the brain are linked to telomere shortening. Telomeres, the protective caps at the end of chromosomes, shorten as cells age.

The new study, conducted by the University of Oxford's Population Health department in the UK, compared telomere length in white blood cells to brain MRIs from the electronic health records of over 31,000 participants in the UK Biobank. The researchers found that people with longer telomeres tended to have better brain health, including a larger volume of grey matter and a thicker cerebral cortex, which atrophy in Alzheimer's patients.

Longer telomeres may protect people from developing dementia, the study suggests, but no association was found with stroke or Parkinson's disease. The researchers believe these findings provide valuable insights into the potential protective role of telomeres against Alzheimer's disease.

Telomeres act as protective caps on chromosomes, shielding DNA from degrading. Short telomeres signify cellular aging and stress and are linked to higher risks of neurological and psychiatric disorders. The relationship between telomere length and brain changes in people with neurological conditions is currently not well understood, but exploring these connections could provide crucial insights into the biological mechanisms behind neurodegenerative disorders.

 "We found associations between telomere length, a marker of biological aging, and multiple aspects of brain structure,” said lead researcher Anya Topiwala and her team in a statement. “This may explain why individuals with longer telomeres have a lower risk of dementia."

The study, currently the largest and most comprehensive investigation of the relationship between telomere length and brain MRI markers, reveals that shorter telomeres are associated with various brain changes linked to dementia. These associations suggest that the acceleration of brain aging, as indicated by telomere length, could represent a biological pathway leading to neurodegenerative disease development. Overall, these findings offer crucial insights into the potential role of telomeres in the onset of dementia.