Genetics and geography of leukocyte telomere length in sub-Saharan Africans

Steven C. Hunt, Matthew E.B. Hansen, Simon Verhulst, Michael A. McQuillan, William Beggs, Tsung Po Lai, Gaonyadiwe G. Mokone, Sununguko Wata Mpoloka, Dawit Wolde Meskel, Gurja Belay, Thomas B. Nyambo, Christian C. Abnet, Meredith Yeager, Stephen J. Chanock, Michael A. Province, Scott M. Williams, Abraham Aviv, Sarah A. Tishkoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) might be causal in cardiovascular disease and major cancers. To elucidate the roles of genetics and geography in LTL variability across humans, we compared LTL measured in 1295 sub-Saharan Africans (SSAs) with 559 African-Americans (AAms) and 2464 European-Americans (EAms). LTL differed significantly across SSAs (P = 0.003), with the San from Botswana (with the oldest genomic ancestry) having the longest LTL and populations from Ethiopia having the shortest LTL. SSAs had significantly longer LTL than AAms [P = 6.5(e-16)] whose LTL was significantly longer than EAms [P = 2.5(e-7)]. Genetic variation in SSAs explained 52% of LTL variance versus 27% in AAms and 34% in EAms. Adjustment for genetic variation removed the LTL differences among SSAs. LTL genetic variation among SSAs, with the longest LTL in the San, supports the hypothesis that longer LTL was ancestral in humans. Identifying factors driving LTL variation in Africa may have important ramifications for LTL-associated diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3014-3020
Number of pages7
JournalHuman molecular genetics
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 15 2020


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