Systemic lupus erythematosis and vitamin D deficiency are associated with shorter telomere length among African Americans, according to a study published last week in PLOS ONE.
Systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disorder resulting in tissue damage and inflammation. SLE can harm the heart, lungs, skin, joints, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. SLE is most common in African American women. Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be a potential environmental trigger of SLE and SLE linked disease expression. Patients with SLE often avoid the sun, a common trigger of disease flair, so the risk of vitamin D deficiency is high among people with SLE.
Telomeres are protective caps at the end of our chromosomes. As telomeres shorten, our cells are more vulnerable to damage. Telomeres are considered a gauge of a cell’s lifespan. Research has shown that telomere shortening plays an important role in human disease and mortality. A recent cross-sectional study reported a positive correlation between vitamin D levels and telomere length.
Brett Hoffecker and colleagues conducted a case-control study evaluating vitamin D status, telomere length (cellular aging), and anti-telomere antibodies among African American women with SLE and healthy controls. Anti-telomere antibodies are antibodies that target the telomeric ends of chromosomes. High anti-telomere antibody levels are associated with shorter telomere length.
On average, both SLE patients and controls had vitamin D levels below 20 ng/ml (17.5 ng/ml and 17.3 ng/ml respectively). As expected, the researchers found that higher age predicted shorter telomere length. SLE patients had significantly shorter telomeres compared to age and gender matched controls. They also found that anti-telomere antibodies were shown to be elevated in SLE patients compared to controls.
Hoffecker and colleagues also assessed the link between vitamin D status and telomere length. They found a statistically significant correlation between short telomeres and low vitamin D levels (<20 ng/ml) among all participants. They also report a link between low vitamin D status and higher anti-telomere antibody levels, although this trend was not statistically significant.
To determine whether increasing vitamin D status would improve telomere length and anti-telomere antibody levels, the researchers followed 29 of the 59 SLE patients for an average of 3 years. The average vitamin D levels of these patients significantly increased from 20 ng/ml to 30 ng/ml, likely due to increased vitamin D awareness. There was no significant change in average telomere length or anti-telomere antibody levels over the 3 year period. However, when the authors split the 29 longitudinal patients into deficient (<30 ng/ml) or sufficient (≥30 ng/ml) groups, the deficient patients had shorter telomeres when compared with the sufficient patients.
The authors call for additional prospective follow-up of SLE patients and controls to determine a possible link between telomere length and vitamin D status over time in patients with SLE. To learn more about vitamin D and lupus, take a look at our previous posts on the topic. We have also covered research that has looked at telomere length and vitamin D, too.