Genetic variation in human telomerase is associated with telomere length in Ashkenazi centenarians

Gil Atzmon,? Miook Cho,? Richard M. Cawthon,? Temuri Budagov,? Micol Katz,? Xiaoman Yang, Glenn Siegel,? Aviv Bergman,? Derek M. Huffman,? Clyde B. Schechter,? Woodring E. Wright,? Jerry W. Shay,? Nir Barzilai,? Diddahally R. Govindaraju and Yousin Suh

Departments of Medicine and Genetics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461; bInstitute for Aging Research, Diabetes Research and Training Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461; Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; Department of Systems and Computational Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461; Department of Family and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461; Department of Cell Biology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390; and Department of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118

Telomere length in humans is emerging as a biomarker of aging because its shortening is associated with aging-related diseases and early mortality. However, genetic mechanisms responsible for these associations are not known. Here, in a cohort of Ashkenazi Jewish centenarians, their offspring, and offspring-matched controls, we studied the inheritance and maintenance of telomere length and variations in two major genes associated with telomerase enzyme activity, hTERT and hTERC. We demonstrated that centenarians and their offspring maintain longer telomeres compared with controls with advancing age and that longer telomeres are associated with protection from age-related diseases, better cognitive function, and lipid profiles of healthy aging. Sequence analysis of hTERT and hTERC showed overrepresentation of synonymous and intronic mutations among centenarians relative to controls. Moreover, we identified a common hTERT haplotype that is associated with both exceptional longevity and longer telomere length. Thus, variations in human telomerase gene that are associated with better maintenance of telomere length may confer healthy aging and exceptional longevity in humans.