UCSF, Stanford team link shorter telomeres to smaller hippocampus

A brain region that is vital for memory and shrinks in Alzheimer’s disease patients also is likely to be smaller in those whose white blood cells have shorter DNA-protecting end caps – called telomeres – according to a study by Stanford and UCSF researchers published online July 14 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

According to lead author Emily Jacobs, PhD, who analyzed the data as a postdoctoral fellow the laboratory of Elissa Epel, PhD, “Our findings highlight how chromosomal aging is tied to broader aspects of physiological aging, in this case hippocampal volume. These data raise the possibility that leukocyte telomere length may provide an early marker of age-related neurodegeneration.”

Epel added, “Blood telomere length is a reliable predictor of diseases of aging, and it appears to relate to aspects of brain aging as well. Studies of stress reduction and lifestyle interventions suggest telomere length may be malleable. But it is still a big question as to whether increasing telomere length over time will actually prevent cognitive decline or other aging-related conditions.”

The work of Epel and another one of the study's co-authors, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, was also recently profiled on Mosiac. For more than a decade, the two have collaborated on studying the connections between chronic stress, telomeres, and aging.