Older paternal ages and grandpaternal ages at conception predict longer telomeres in human descendants

Dan T.A. Eisenberg*, Nanette R. Lee, Peter H. Rej, M. Geoffrey Hayes, Christopher W. Kuzawa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Telomere length (TL) declines with age in most human tissues, and shorter TL appears to accelerate senescence. By contrast, men’s sperm TL is positively correlated with age. Correspondingly, in humans, older paternal age at conception (PAC) predicts longer offspring TL. We have hypothesized that this PAC effect could persist across multiple generations, and thereby contribute to a transgenerational genetic plasticity that increases expenditures on somatic maintenance as the average age at reproduction is delayed within a lineage. Here, we examine TL data from 3282 humans together with PAC data across four generations. In this sample, the PAC effect is detectable in children and grandchildren. The PAC effect is transmitted through the matriline and patriline with similar strength and is characterized by a generational decay. PACs of more distant male ancestors were not significant predictors, although statistical power was limited in these analyses. Sensitivity analyses suggest that the PAC effect is linear, not moderated by offspring age, or maternal age, and is robust to controls for income, urbanicity and ancestry. These findings show that TL reflects the age at the reproduction of recent male matrilineal and patrilineal ancestors, with an effect that decays across generations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190800
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1903
StatePublished - May 29 2019


  • Disposable soma
  • Epigenetics
  • Intergenerational inertia
  • Plasticity
  • Predictive adaptive response
  • Senescence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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