Comparing qPCR and DNA methylation-based measurements of telomere length in a high-risk pediatric cohort

Waylon J. Hastings, Laura Etzel, Christine M. Heim, Jennie G. Noll, Emma J. Rose, Hannah M.C. Schreier, Chad E. Shenk, Xin Tang, Idan Shalev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Various approaches exist to assess population differences in biological aging. Telomere length (TL) is one such measure, and is associated with disease, disability and early mortality. Yet, issues surrounding precision and reproducibility are a concern for TL measurement. An alternative method to estimate TL using DNA methylation (DNAmTL) was recently developed. Although DNAmTL has been characterized in adult and elderly cohorts, its utility in pediatric populations remains unknown. We examined the comparability of leukocyte TL measurements generated using qPCR (absolute TL; aTL) to those estimated using DNAmTL in a high-risk pediatric cohort (N = 269; age: 8–13 years, 83% investigated for maltreatment). aTL and DNAmTL measurements were correlated with one another (r = 0.20, p = 0.001), but exhibited poor measurement agreement and were significantly different in paired-sample t-tests (Cohen’s d = 0.77, p < 0.001). Shorter DNAmTL was associated with older age (r = −0.25, p < 0.001), male sex (β = −0.27, p = 0.029), and White race (β = −0.74, p = 0.008). By contrast, aTL was less strongly associated with age (r = −0.13, p = 0.040), was longer in males (β = 0.31, p = 0.012), and was not associated with race (p = 0.820). These findings highlight strengths and limitations of high-throughput measures of TL; although DNAmTL replicated hypothesized associations, aTL measurements were positively skewed and did not replicate associations with external validity measures. These results also extend previous research in adults and suggest that DNAmTL is a sensitive TL measure for use in pediatric populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)660-677
Number of pages18
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aging
  • Cell Biology


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