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Open Access Research article

Cognitive performance and leukocyte telomere length in two narrow age-range cohorts: a population study

Karen A Mather12*, Anthony F Jorm3, Kaarin J Anstey1, Peter J Milburn4, Simon Easteal4 and Helen Christensen1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia

2 Brain and Ageing Research Program, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, 2031, Australia

3 Orygen Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic, 3052, Australia

4 John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia

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BMC Geriatrics 2010, 10:62  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-10-62

Published: 16 September 2010



Cognitive function and telomere length both decline with age. A correlation between these two measures would suggest that they may be influenced by the same underlying age-related biological process. Several studies suggest telomere length may be positively correlated with cognitive performance but the evidence is equivocal. In this report, the relationships between telomere length and cognitive performance at Wave 2 and cognitive change from Wave 1 to Wave 2 are assessed in two narrow age-range population cohorts.


We tested the hypothesis that leukocyte telomere length correlates positively with cognitive performance and cognitive decline in two community cohorts of middle-aged (n = 351, 44-49 years) and older (n = 295, 64-70 years) adults, who participated in two waves of a longitudinal study undertaken in the Canberra-Queanbeyan region of Australia. Telomere length was estimated at Wave 2. Cognitive performance was measured using the Symbol Digit Modalities Test, the immediate recall test of the California Verbal Learning Test, reaction time (simple & choice) and the Trails Test Part B.


Cross-sectionally at Wave 2, telomere length correlated with Symbol Digit Modalities Test scores (men) and simple reaction time (women) for the older cohort only, although the latter finding was in the opposite direction to that hypothesised. Telomere length measured at Wave 2 was not associated with cognitive change from Wave 1 to Wave 2 for either cohort, except for two associations of small magnitude (immediate recall in the older cohort, choice reaction time in older women), which were also in the contrary direction to that predicted.


These results do not give strong support to the hypothesis that leukocyte telomere length is associated with either levels of cognitive performance or age-related cognitive change.