May 18, 2008
Infection Ages White Blood Cell Telomeres

Telomeres, which are caps at the ends of chromosomes are known to get shorter as we age. Shorter telomeres might increase mortality risk. Also, lack of vitamin D and chronic stress both seem to make telomeres shorter. So telomere length really seems to matter. With all that in mind: Exposure to a pathogen causes telomeres to shrink more rapidly.

We experimentally tested whether repeated exposure to an infectious agent, Salmonella enterica, causes telomere attrition in wild-derived house mice (Mus musculus musculus). We repeatedly infected mice with a genetically diverse cocktail of five different S. enterica strains over seven months, and compared changes in telomere length with sham-infected sibling controls. We measured changes in telomere length of white blood cells (WBC) after five infections using a real-time PCR method. Our results show that repeated Salmonella infections cause telomere attrition in WBCs, and particularly for males, which appeared less disease resistant than females. Interestingly, we also found that individuals having long WBC telomeres at early age were relatively disease resistant during later life. Finally, we found evidence that more rapid telomere attrition increases mortality risk, although this trend was not significant.

I have a sore throat as I write this post. Therefore my immune system is getting a little more aged and my white blood cell telomeres are getting shortened. Bummer dudes. Fortunately I only very rarely get sick. But if you live a lifestyle that causes you to get colds and flus every year then think about what steps you can take to cut your frequency of sickness. Every bout with some germ is making you another day older and closer to death.

What we really need: technologies for stem cell manipulation to produce youthful replacement immune system stem cells. That will do more than just reduce deaths of old people from influenza, pneumonia, and other pathogens which kill the elderly. Stronger rejuvenated immune systems will reduce death from cancer and maybe reduce the incidence of auto-immune disorders.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 May 18 03:05 PM  Aging Mechanisms

Nancy Lebovitz said at May 18, 2008 4:50 PM:

If parents send their kids to school, the parents are likely to pick up more infections than otherwise. Do you know what effect (if any) having children seems to have on life span?

Gyan said at May 18, 2008 10:56 PM:

Does consuming polyunsaturated fats age you?

clayton said at May 19, 2008 11:39 AM:


Omega 6 (aka PolyUnsaturated fatty acids) upregulate your immune cells. good if you have a sliver in your finger, bad if you have pollen in your nose.
Omega 3 (aka superunsaturated fatty acids) downregulate your immune cells. Good if you have arthritis, bad... um only if you eat 20g a day of it, everyday, for many many years. Thats like eating 10 cans of sardines everyday.

Diets high in Omega 3's are associated with a reduced risk in Cardio Vascular disease, which is still the #1 killer in America, just 2 spots ahead of iatrogenic causes. Gotta love medical marvels.

Doctors Are The Third Leading Cause of Death in the US, Causing 250,000 Deaths Every Year


* 12,000 -----unnecessary surgery 8
* 7,000 -----medication errors in hospitals 9
* 20,000 ----other errors in hospitals 10
* 80,000 ----infections in hospitals 10
* 106,000 ---non-error, negative effects of drugs 2

These total to 250,000 deaths per year from iatrogenic causes

Randall, do you still think medicine will soon be extending your life into the centuries? I give medicine a dose of hubris and time, and then maybe we will see centurions as short lived people.

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