Environmental and occupational exposure to chemicals and telomere length in human studies

Xiao Zhang, Shao Lin, William E. Funk, Lifang Hou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Telomeres are complexes of tandem repeats of DNA (5′-TTAGGG-3′) and protein that cap eukaryotic chromosomes and play a critical role in chromosome stability. Telomeres shorten with aging and this process can be accelerated by increased oxidative stress and episodes of inflammation. Evidence is rapidly growing that telomere length (TL) may be affected by environmental chemicals that have frequently been associated with chronic diseases. In this article, we review the published data on TL in relation to environmental and occupational exposure to several chemicals based on our own and others' studies. The environmental and occupational exposures associated with shorter TL include traffic-related air pollution (ie, particulate matter (PM), black carbon (BC), and benzene and toluene), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), N-nitrosamines, pesticides, lead, exposure in car mechanical workshops, and hazardous waste exposure. Arsenic, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and shortterm exposure to PM are associated with longer TL. We discuss the possible reasons for the differences in results, including time- and dose-related issues, study design, and possible mechanisms involved in telomere regulation. We also discuss the future directions and challenges for TL-related environmental and occupational health research, such as investigation of TL in subpopulations of blood leukocytes, and the study of genetic and epigenetic factors that may regulate telomere integrity using longitudinal designs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)722-728
Number of pages7
JournalPostgraduate Medical Journal
Issue number1058
StatePublished - Dec 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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