Telomeres are complex DNA–protein structures located at the end of eukaryotic chromosomes. Telomere length shortens with age in all replicating somatic cells. It has been shown that tobacco smoking enhances telomere shortening in circulating lymphocytes. The present study investigated whether this effect was further amplified in smokers who develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Telomere length was determined by fluorescence in situ hybridisation in circulating lymphocytes harvested from 26 never-smokers, 24 smokers with normal lung function and 26 smokers with moderate-to-severe airflow obstruction (forced expiratory flow in one second 48±4% predicted).
In contrast to never-smokers, telomere length significantly decreased with age in smokers. There was also a dose–effect relationship between the cumulative long-life exposure to tobacco smoking (pack-yrs) and telomere length. The presence and/or severity of chronic airflow obstruction did not modify this relationship.
The results of the current study confirm that smoking exposure enhances telomere shortening in circulating lymphocytes. It also demonstrates a dose–effect relationship between exposure to tobacco smoking and telomere length, but failed to show that this effect is amplified in smokers who develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
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