At Life Length we have been saying it for months; there are several indications that patients in whom COVID-19 causes severity have significantly shorter telomeres.
This time the news comes from a study carried out by researchers from the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) in collaboration with the COVID-IFEMA Campaign Hospital, which is published in the journal Aging. The work, directed by Maria A. Blasco and whose first authors are Raúl Sánchez and Ana Guío-Carrión, postulates that the shortening of telomeres as a consequence of viral infection prevents tissue regeneration, and that therefore an important part of patients suffer prolonged sequelae.
From the Telomeres and Telomerase Group of CNIO, they have been working for years on the role of telomeres in the regeneration of tissues, specifically, in diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis (a disease that causes the progressive loss of respiratory capacity). In previous studies, they already saw that one of the causes of this disease was damage to the telomeres of type II alveolar pneumocytes, cells responsible for the regeneration of lung tissue which, curiously, are the cells that SARS-CoV-2 infects in this tissue.
This led them to consider that this coronavirus condition in the same cells that cause pulmonary fibrosis was directly related to telomeres and the regenerative capacity of lung tissue.
And it seems that there is a relationship between patients who end up developing lung lesions such as pulmonary fibrosis after COVID-19 and how they have shorter telomeres.
As you all may already know, telomeres are the final part of the chromosomes that shortens with age in all individuals. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the most serious coronavirus patients have generally been seen in people with older age, again giving a direct correlation of greater severity and shorter telomere length.
They have not only found these signs in their experiments with the 89 patients admitted to IFEMA, but they have also discovered (which is especially relevant) that the telomeres of the most seriously ill patients will also be shorter regardless of age. That means, that a person with severe symptoms of COVID-19 generally has shorter telomeres than someone at the same age with milder symptoms.
And what happens after this investigation?
The doors are now open to possible gene therapy for people with these more severe symptoms, but first, the causal relationship between shorter telomere length and post-COVID-19 lung damage must be demonstrated.
Thus, they will have to see if the hypothesis and experiments of the research group with rats without telomerase, with short telomeres and infected with COVID-19 are fruitful and end up corroborating a greater development of severe pulmonary fibrosis in them than in normal rats (control) and, therefore, that there is indeed a direct relationship between short telomeres and COVID-19.
If so, new lines of treatment could be tested through the activation of the telomerase enzyme in these cells that have been under investigation for diseases such as pulomonary fibrosis for some time.
Aging. Un estudio del CNIO relaciona la enfermedad Covid-19 grave con los telómeros cortos: https://www.cnio.es/noticias/publicaciones/un-estudio-del-cnio-relaciona-la-enfermedad-covid-19-grave-con-los-telomeros-cortos/
Shorter telomere lengths in patients with severe COVID-19 disease. Raul Sanchez-Vazquez, Ana Guío-Carrión, Antonio Zapatero-Gaviria, Paula Martínez, Maria A. Blasco (Aging, 2021). DOI: https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.202463