Meta-analysis of telomere length in 19,713 subjects reveals high heritability, stronger maternal inheritance and a paternal age effect

Linda Broer, Veryan Codd, Dale R Nyholt, Joris Deelen, Massimo Mangino, Gonneke Willemsen, Eva Albrecht, Najaf Amin, Marian Beekman, Eco J C de Geus, Anjali Henders, Christopher P Nelson, Claire J Steves, Margie J Wright, Anton J M de Craen, Aaron Isaacs, Mary Matthews, Alireza Moayyeri, Grant W Montgomery, Ben A OostraJacqueline M Vink, Tim D Spector, P Eline Slagboom, Nicholas G Martin, Nilesh J Samani, Cornelia M van Duijn*, Dorret I Boomsma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Telomere length (TL) has been associated with aging and mortality, but individual differences are also influenced by genetic factors, with previous studies reporting heritability estimates ranging from 34 to 82%. Here we investigate the heritability, mode of inheritance and the influence of parental age at birth on TL in six large, independent cohort studies with a total of 19,713 participants. The meta-analysis estimate of TL heritability was 0.70 (95% CI 0.64-0.76) and is based on a pattern of results that is highly similar for twins and other family members. We observed a stronger mother-offspring (r=0.42; P-value=3.60 × 10(-61)) than father-offspring correlation (r=0.33; P-value=7.01 × 10(-5)), and a significant positive association with paternal age at offspring birth (β=0.005; P-value=7.01 × 10(-5)). Interestingly, a significant and quite substantial correlation in TL between spouses (r=0.25; P-value=2.82 × 10(-30)) was seen, which appeared stronger in older spouse pairs (mean age ≥55 years; r=0.31; P-value=4.27 × 10(-23)) than in younger pairs (mean age<55 years; r=0.20; P-value=3.24 × 10(-10)). In summary, we find a high and very consistent heritability estimate for TL, evidence for a maternal inheritance component and a positive association with paternal age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1163-8
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paternal Age
  • Pedigree
  • Telomere/genetics
  • Telomere Shortening/genetics
  • Twins/genetics

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