Leukocyte Telomere Length as Potential Biomarker for Atrial Fibrillation

No significant association was found between atrial fibrillation risk and leukocyte telomere length.

There is no significant association between leukocyte telomere length (LTL) and the risk for atrial fibrillation (AF), according to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Investigators evaluated data from participants who were free of AF and included in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort (n=1143) to evaluate the relationship between LTL and rates of incident AF.

At baseline, the average LTL was 6.95±0.57 kb. Only 184 patients developed AF during the mean follow-up of 15.1±4.2 years. 

According to the findings, older participants had a greater risk for AF (hazard ratio [HR] per 10-year increase, 2.16; 95% CI, 1.71-2.72). The HRs of 1 standard deviation (SD) LTL decrease were 1.21 (95% CI, 0.67-1.48) and 0.80 (95% CI, 0.60-1.08) in participants aged 60 years or older and younger than 60 years, respectively.

Despite these findings, the investigators found no statistically significant association between incident AF and LTL in this study population (HR per 1 SD decrease LTL, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.86-1.19). In addition, participants with longer LTL did not show a significantly higher or lower chance of developing AF at follow-up compared with participants with short LTLs.

Considering this was an observational study, the researchers were unable to establish causality or rule out residual confounding. In addition, the investigators did not differentiate between AF subtypes and atrial flutter or fibrillation in this cohort, further limiting the findings.

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Although biomarkers may be useful predictive tools for AF, the results of this study suggest “that shorter telomere length may not be a suitable biomarker to predict atrial fibrillation.”


Staerk L, Wang B, Lunetta KL, et al. Association between leukocyte telomere length and the risk of incident atrial fibrillation: the Framingham Heart Study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(11);e006541. doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.006541