Telomere dynamics in wild banded mongooses: Evaluating longitudinal and quasi-longitudinal markers of senescence

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Telomere length and the rate of telomere shortening have been suggested as particularly useful physiological biomarkers of the processes involved in senescent decline of somatic and reproductive function. However, longitudinal data on changes in telomere length across the lifespan are difficult to obtain, particularly for long-lived animals. Quasi-longitudinal studies have been proposed as a method to gain insight into telomere dynamics in long-lived species. In this method, minimally replicative cells are used as the baseline telomere length against which telomere length in highly replicative cells (which represent the current state) can be compared. Here we test the assumptions and predictions of the quasi-longitudinal approach using longitudinal telomere data in a wild cooperative mammal, the banded mongoose, Mungos mungo. Contrary to our prediction, telomere length (TL) was longer in leukocytes than in ear cartilage. Longitudinally, the TL of ear cartilage shortened with age, but there was no change in the TL of leukocytes, and we also observed many individuals in which TL increased rather than decreased with age. Leukocyte TL but not cartilage TL was a predictor of total lifespan, while neither predicted post-sampling survival. Our data do not support the hypothesis that cross-tissue comparison in TL can act as a quasi-longitudinal marker of senescence. Rather, our results suggest that telomere dynamics in banded mongooses are more complex than is typically assumed, and that longitudinal studies across whole life spans are required to elucidate the link between telomere dynamics and senescence in natural populations.HIGHLIGHTSWe find no evidence that somatic tissues can be used as a quasi-longitudinal marker for telomere length in leukocytes.Telomere dynamics in different tissue types appear to be complex and likely to be influenced by telomerase activity.Telomere length may be a useful marker for somatic quality in wild animal populations.

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