Telomere Length Is Associated with Disability Progression in Multiple Sclerosis

University of California, San Francisco MS-EPIC Team:

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objective: To assess whether biological aging as measured by leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is associated with clinical disability and brain volume loss in multiple sclerosis (MS). Methods: Adults with MS/clinically isolated syndrome in the University of California, San Francisco EPIC cohort study were included. LTL was measured on DNA samples by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and expressed as telomere to somatic DNA (T/S) ratio. Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) and 3-dimensional T1-weighted brain magnetic resonance imaging were performed at baseline and follow-up. Associations of baseline LTL with cross-sectional and longitudinal outcomes were assessed using simple and mixed effects linear regression models. A subset (n = 46) had LTL measured over time, and we assessed the association of LTL change with EDSS change with mixed effects models. Results: Included were 356 women and 160 men (mean age = 43 years, median disease duration = 6 years, median EDSS = 1.5 [range = 0–7], mean T/S ratio = 0.97 [standard deviation = 0.18]). In baseline analyses adjusted for age, disease duration, and sex, for every 0.2 lower LTL, EDSS was 0.27 higher (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.13–0.42, p < 0.001) and brain volume was 7.4mm3 lower (95% CI = 0.10–14.7, p = 0.047). In longitudinal adjusted analyses, those with lower baseline LTL had higher EDSS and lower brain volumes over time. In adjusted analysis of the subset, LTL change was associated with EDSS change over 10 years; for every 0.2 LTL decrease, EDSS was 0.34 higher (95% CI = 0.08–0.61, p = 0.012). Interpretation: Shorter telomere length was associated with disability independent of chronological age, suggesting that biological aging may contribute to neurological injury in MS. Targeting aging-related mechanisms is a potential therapeutic strategy against MS progression. ANN NEUROL 2019;86:671–682.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)671-682
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of neurology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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