Measurement of Telomere Length for Longitudinal Analysis: Implications of Assay Precision

Daniel Nettle*, Shahinaz M. Gadalla, Tsung Po Lai, Ezra Susser, Melissa Bateson, Abraham Aviv

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Researchers increasingly wish to test hypotheses concerning the impact of environmental or disease exposures on telomere length (TL), and they use longitudinal study designs to do so. In population studies, TL is usually measured with a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR)-based method. This method has been validated by calculating its correlation with a gold standard method such as Southern blotting (SB) in cross-sectional data sets. However, in a cross-section, the range of true variation in TL is large, and measurement error is introduced only once. In a longitudinal study, the target variation of interest is small, and measurement error is introduced at both baseline and follow-up. In this paper, we present results from a small data set (n = 20) in which leukocyte TL was measured twice 6.6 years apart by means of both qPCR and SB. The cross-sectional correlations between qPCR and SB were high at both baseline (r = 0.90) and follow-up (r = 0.85), yet their correlation for TL change was poor (r = 0.48). Moreover, the qPCR data but not the SB data showed strong signatures of measurement error. Through simulation, we show that the statistical power gain from performing a longitudinal analysis is much greater for SB than for qPCR. We discuss implications for optimal study design and analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1406-1413
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number7
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

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