Moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea is associated with telomere lengthening

Katarzyna Polonis, Virend K. Somers, Christiane Becari, Naima Covassin, Phillip J. Schulte, Brooke R. Druliner, Ruth A. Johnson, Krzysztof Narkiewicz, Lisa A. Boardman, Prachi Singh

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10 Scopus citations


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with cardiometabolic diseases. Telomere shortening is linked to hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular diseases. Because these conditions are highly prevalent in OSA, we hypothesized that telomere length (TL) would be reduced in OSA patients. We identified 106 OSA and 104 non-OSA subjects who underwent polysomnography evaluation. Quantitative PCR was used to measure telomere length in genomic DNA isolated from peripheral blood samples. The association between OSA and TL was determined using unadjusted and adjusted linear models. There was no difference in TL between the OSA and non-OSA (control) group. However, we observed a J-shaped relationship between TL and OSA severity: the longest TL in moderate-tosevere OSA [4,918 ± 230 (SD) bp] and the shortest TL in mild OSA (4,735 ± 145 bp). Mean TL in moderate-to-severe OSA was significantly longer than in the control group after adjustment for age, sex, body mass index, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and depression (β = 96.0, 95% confidence interval: 15.4 –176.6, P = 0.020). In conclusion, moderate-to-severe OSA is associated with telomere lengthening. Our findings support the idea that changes in TL are not unidirectional processes, such that telomere shortening occurs with age and disease but may be prolonged in moderate-to-severe OSA. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Here, we show that moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea is associated with longer telomeres, independent of age and cardiovascular risk factors, challenging the hypothesis that telomere shortening is a unidirectional process related to age/ disease. A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying telomere dynamics may identify targets for therapeutic intervention in cardiovascular aging/other chronic diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)H1022-H1030
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 6 2017


  • Intermittent hypoxemia
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Telomere length


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