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Telomeres and the natural lifespan limit in humans.
Steenstrup T, Kark JD, Verhulst S, Thinggaard M, Hjelmborg JVB, Dalgård C, Kyvik KO, Christiansen L, Mangino M, Spector TD, Petersen I, Kimura M, Benetos A, Labat C, Sinnreich R, Hwang SJ, Levy D, Hunt SC, Fitzpatrick AL, Chen W, Berenson GS, Barbieri M, Paolisso G, Gadalla SM, Savage SA, Christensen K, Yashin AI, Arbeev KG, Aviv A
An ongoing debate in demography has focused on whether the human lifespan has a maximal natural limit. Taking a mechanistic perspective, and knowing that short telomeres are associated with diminished longevity, we examined whether telomere length dynamics during adult life could set a maximal natural lifespan limit. We define leukocyte telomere length of 5 kb as the 'telomeric brink', which denotes a high risk of imminent death. We show that a subset of adults may reach the telomeric brink within the current life expectancy and more so for a 100-year life expectancy. Thus, secular trends in life expectancy should confront a biological limit due to crossing the telomeric brink.