Signs of aging in DNA linked to higher risk of COVID-19 death

Previous research has linked shorter telomeres to a number of age-related diseases, including cancer and osteoarthritis, and a higher risk of infections. Photo by qimono/Pixabay

Certain chronic diseases are known to increase the risk of death from COVID-19. Now, new research identifies another risk factor.

Shorter telomeres are associated with an increased likelihood of death from COVID-19, especially in older women, researchers say.

Telomeres are protective caps at the end of chromosomes (DNA) that shorten with age. Previous research has linked shorter telomeres with a number of age-related diseasesincluding cancer and osteoarthritis, and a higher risk of infections.

“Our results implicate telomere length in COVID-19 mortality and highlight its potential as a predictor of death and severe outcomes, particularly in older women,” said the co-author. study, Ana Virseda-Berdices, from the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid, Spain.

Virseda-Berdices and colleagues looked at how telomere length affects the severity of COVID-19. The study included more than 600 adults hospitalized with COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic, from March to September 2020. Telomere length was measured in patient blood samples taken within 20 days of diagnosis or hospitalization from COVID-19.

The 533 patients who survived had an average age of 67, compared to an average age of 78 among the 75 patients who died from COVID.

Among all patients, shorter telomeres were significantly associated with a higher risk of death from COVID-19 at 30 and 90 days after hospital discharge.

Further analyzes by age and sex showed that longer telomeres were associated with a 70% lower risk of dying from COVID in all women at 30 days, and a 76% lower risk of dying from the disease. at 90 days.

In women 65 and older, longer telomeres were associated with a 78% lower risk of death from COVID-19 at 30 days and an 81% reduced risk at 90 days.

There were no significant differences in telomere length between men who survived COVID-19 and those who died from the disease, the study found.

The results were due to be presented this week at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, in Lisbon, Portugal. The meeting ends Tuesday.

“Although we do not know the reasons for the strong association found in women, it is possible that the lack of association between telomere length and COVID-19 mortality in men is due to an increase in comorbidities. and risk factors in men that masked the effect,” Virseda-Berdices said in a meeting press release.

“Female patients tend to have less severe disease and are more likely to survive COVID-19, likely due to fewer lifestyle risk factors and comorbidities than males. Apart from aging, telomere dysfunction is also associated with smoking, poor diet, higher body mass index. and other factors that promote oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and cancer,” Virseda-Berdices added.

The study was observational and does not prove cause and effect, the researchers noted. Research presented at meetings is generally considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

There’s more on telomeres at the US National Institute for Human Genome Research.

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