COVID-19 and DNA, the link between telomeres and intensive care: the study by Saint-Luc University Clinics and UCLouvain

COVID-19 and DNA, the chromosome telomeres: a team of researchers at Saint-Luc University Clinics and UCLouvain studied the potential role of these chromosome-specific traits


Telomeres are DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes and shorten with each cell division.

Their size decreases depending on the age of the cell and the individual.

When they become too short, especially in the elderly, the cells go into senescence (a phenomenon close to cell death).

These structures, therefore, play the role of a cellular biological clock.

However, the length of telomeres is not the same for all individuals of the same age and depends, among other things, on some genetic variants.

Alongside a proven impact on the onset of many chronic diseases, the shortening of telomeres seems to influence the defenses against viruses.

It is assumed that individuals with shorter telomeres will deplete their immune cell stock more quickly.

Measuring telomere length

Almost all patients hospitalized for COVID-19 have a lack of lymphocytes in their blood.

Also, thanks to the collaboration with the Institut de Duve, Saint-Luc university clinics now have a routine clinical technique to measure the length of telomeres in patients’ blood cells.

This is why Professors Antoine Froidure (Department of Pneumology, Cliniques Saint-Luc and Institute for Experimental and Clinical Research, UCLouvain) and Anabelle Decottignies (Institut de Duve, UCLouvain) decided to study the potential link between telomere size and COVID-19.

A better understanding of immune mechanisms in the face of COVID-19: shorter DNA telomeres correspond to a higher mortality rate

Specifically, researchers recruited 70 patients hospitalized for a COVID-19 infection at clinics during the first wave of the pandemic (between April 7 and May 27, 2020).

Between 27 and 96 years of age, this population was compared with the results of a control group, almost 500 people without COVID-19.

In the cohort of COVID-19 patients, telomeres were shorter than in the control group.

The study also found that having very short telomeres (smaller than the 10 percentile for age) was associated with a significantly higher risk of hospitalization or death.

These findings open important perspectives in understanding the mechanisms of coronavirus immunity.

Per approfondire:

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