The paternal age at conception effect on offspring telomere length: Mechanistic, comparative and adaptive perspectives

Dan T.A. Eisenberg*, Christopher W. Kuzawa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Telomeres are repeating DNA found at the ends of chromosomes that, in the absence of restorative processes, shorten with cell replications and are implicated as a cause of senescence. It appears that sperm telomere length (TL) increases with age in humans, and as a result offspring of older fathers inherit longer telomeres.We reviewpossible mechanisms underlying this paternal age at conception (PAC) effect on TL, including sperm telomere extension due to telomerase activity, age-dependent changes in the spermatogonial stem cell population (possibly driven by ‘selfish’ spermatogonia) and non-causal confounding. In contrast to the lengthening of TL with PAC, higher maternal age at conception appears to predict shorter offspring TL in humans. We review evidence for heterogeneity across species in the PAC effect on TL, which could relate to differences in statistical power, sperm production rates or testicular telomerase activity. Finally, we review the hypothesis that the PAC effect on TL may allow a gradual multi-generational adaptive calibration of maintenance effort, and reproductive lifespan, to local demographic conditions: descendants of males who reproduced at a later age are likely to find themselves in an environment where increased maintenance effort, allowing later reproduction, represents a fitness improving resource allocation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20160442
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1741
StatePublished - Mar 5 2018


  • Disposable soma
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Intergenerational inertia
  • Plasticity
  • Predictive adaptive response
  • Senescence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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