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Objective: The discovery of telomere length (TL) as a biomarker of cellular aging and correlate of age-related disease has generated a new field of research in the biology of healthy aging. Although the most common method of sample collection for TL is venous blood draw, less-invasive DNA collection methods are becoming more widely used. However, how TL relates across tissues derived from these sample collection methods is poorly understood. The current study is the first to characterize the associations in TL across three sample collection methods: venous whole blood, finger prick dried blood spot and saliva.

Methods: TL was measured in 24 healthy young adults using three modes of sample collection for each participant: venous whole blood, finger prick dried blood spot and saliva. Relative TL was measured using quantitative polymerase chain reaction.

Results: TL in finger prick dried blood spots (DBS) was highly correlated with TL in whole blood (r = 0.84, p < 0.001). Salivary TL was also correlated with whole blood TL (r = 0.56, p = 0.005), but this association was not as strong as that of dried blood spot TL (Steiger’s Z = 2.12, p = 0.034). TL was longer in saliva than in whole blood or DBS (p’s < 0.001).

Conclusions: These findings have important implications for future study design by supporting the validity of less-invasive methods that can be implemented with vulnerable populations or in the field. Further, these findings aid in interpreting the burgeoning area of biological aging research and may shed light on our understanding of inconsistencies in the empirical literature.


This article was originally published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, volume 9, in 2017. DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2017.00397


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