Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an age-related condition that has been associated with early telomere attrition; the clinical implications of telomere shortening in COPD are not well known. In this study we aimed to determine the relationship of the epigenetic regulation of telomeric length in peripheral blood with the risk of exacerbations and hospitalization in patients with COPD.
Methods: Blood DNA methylation profiles were obtained from 292 patients with COPD enrolled in the placebo arm of the Macrolide Azithromycin to Prevent Rapid Worsening of Symptoms Associated With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease study (MACRO) and who were followed for 1-year. We calculated telomere length based on DNA methylation markers (DNAmTL) and related this biomarker to the risk of exacerbation and hospitalization and health status (St. George respiratory questionary score [SGRQ]) over this time using a Cox proportional hazards model. We also used linear models to investigate the associations of DNAmTL with the rates of exacerbations and hospitalizations (adjusted for chronological age, lung function, race, sex, smoking, and body mass index).
Results: Participants with short DNAmTL demonstrated increased risk of exacerbation (P=0.02) and hospitalization (P=0.03) compared to those with longer DNAmTL. DNAmTL age acceleration was associated with higher rates of exacerbation (P=1.35x10-04) and hospitalization (P=5.21x10-03) and poor health status (SGRQ) independent of chronological age (P=0.03).
Conclusion: Telomeric age based on blood DNA methylation is associated with COPD exacerbation and hospitalization and thus is a promising biomarker for poor outcomes in COPD.