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Leukocyte Telomere Length and Age at Menopause

Gray, Kristen E.a; Schiff, Melissa A.a; Fitzpatrick, Annette L.a; Kimura, Masayukib; Aviv, Abrahamb; Starr, Jacqueline R.a,c,d

doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000017

Background: Telomere length is a marker of cellular aging that varies with the individual, is inherited, and is highly correlated across somatic cell types within persons. Interindividual variability of telomere length may partly explain differences in reproductive aging rates. We examined whether leukocyte telomere length was associated with menopausal age.

Methods: We evaluated the relationship between leukocyte telomere length and age at natural menopause in 486 white women ≥65 years of age. We fit linear regression models adjusted for age, income, education, body mass index, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol intake. We repeated the analysis in women with surgical menopause. We also performed sensitivity analyses excluding women (1) with unilateral oophorectomy, (2) who were nulliparous, or (3) reporting menopausal age <40 years, among other exclusions.

Results: For every 1-kb increase in leukocyte telomere length, average age at natural menopause increased by 10.2 months (95% confidence interval = 1.3 to 19.0). There was no association among 179 women reporting surgical menopause. In all but one sensitivity analysis, the association between leukocyte telomere length and age at menopause became stronger. However, when excluding women with menopausal age <40 years, the association decreased to 7.5 months (−0.4 to 15.5).

Conclusions: Women with the longest leukocyte telomere length underwent menopause 3 years later than those with the shortest leukocyte telomere length. If an artifact, an association would likely also have been observed in women with surgical menopause. If these results are replicated, leukocyte telomere length may prove to be a useful predictor of age at menopause.

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From the aDepartment of Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; bThe Center of Human Development and Aging, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ; cCenter for Clinical and Translational Research, The Forsyth Institute, Cambridge, MA; and dDepartment of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston, MA.

This publication was made possible by grant number T32 HD052462 from NICHD and grant 1 R01 HL80698-01 from NHLBI. This research was also supported by contracts HHSN268201200036C, N01-HC-85239, N01-HC-85079 through N01-HC-85086, N01-HC-35129, N01-HC-15103, N01-HC-55222, N01-HC-75150, N01-HC-45133, and grant HL080295 from NHLBI, with additional contribution from NINDS. Additional support was provided through AG-023629, AG-15928, AG-20098, and AG-027058 from the NIA.

Supplemental digital content is available through direct URL citations in the HTML and PDF versions of this article ( This content is not peer-reviewed or copy-edited; it is the sole responsibility of the author.

Correspondence: Jacqueline R. Starr, Center for Clinical and Translational Research, The Forsyth Institute, 245 First Street, Cambridge, MA 02142. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc