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Shorter Telomere Length Increases Risk of Catching Cold: Study

Update Date: Feb 19, 2013 11:43 PM EST

Short telomere length is associated with increased odds of falling ill due to common cold virus, says a new study.

Telomeres are a kind of protective caps that protect the cell's genetic material from erosion during cell division. This shortening of telomere length in cells like leukocytes that are involved in immune response, slows down the body's defense against disease-causing agents.

Previous research has shown that shorter telomeres are associated with biological aging, age-related disease, pain and risk of early death. Also, research has shown that telomere length can show the risk of pancreatic cancer. A healthy lifestyle is associated with a longer telomere length in leukocytes.

"Shorter leukocyte telomere length also is associated with aging-related illness and death from conditions with immune system involvement, including infectious diseases, cancer, and cardiovascular disease," the authors write.

The present study, conducted by Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, and colleagues, focused attention on young and middle-aged adults to see if telomere length was associated with increased risk of disease in this group.

The study included 152 participants between ages 18 and 55 years. Researchers assessed length of leukocyte telomere in all the participants. Next, all the study participants were quarantined and administered with nasal drop, who had common cold virus (rhinovirus). These people were then monitored for five days, according to a news release from JAMA.

Some 69 percent of the study participants developed an infection while 22 percent had cold. Study results showed that although a shorter telomere length in all leukocytes meant a higher risk of cold, it was CD8CD28- telomere length that was associated with greatest odds of a person catching a cold.

Researchers found that the rate of infection (in CD8CD28- subset) in people with shortest telomeres was 77 percent, while it was about 50 percent in people who had the longest telomeres in the study group.

Also, the association between telomere length and development of a clinical disease like cold became apparent with increasing age.

"In this study of healthy young and midlife adults, shorter CD8CD28- cell telomere length was associated with upper respiratory tract infection and clinical illness following experimental exposure to rhinovirus. Because these data are preliminary, their clinical implications are unknown," the authors conclude.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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