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Natalini JG, England BR, Baker JF, Chen Q, Singh N, Mahajan TD, Roul P, Thiele GM, Sauer BC, Mikuls TR, Johnson FB, Kawut SM. Associations between shortened telomeres and rheumatoid arthritis-associated interstitial lung disease among U.S. Veterans. Respiratory medicine. 2022 Sep 1; 201:106943.
BACKGROUND: Shortened telomeres are associated with several different subtypes of interstitial lung disease (ILD), although studies of telomere length and ILD in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are lacking. METHODS: Within the Veterans Affairs Rheumatoid Arthritis (VARA) registry, we performed cross-sectional and case-control studies of prevalent and incident ILD, respectively. We randomly selected a subset of RA patients with ILD and individually matched them to RA patients without ILD according to age, sex, and VARA enrollment date. Telomere length was measured on peripheral blood leukocytes collected at registry enrollment using quantitative PCR (T/S ratio). Short telomeres were defined as a T/S ratio in the lowest 10th percentile of the cohort. RESULTS: Our cross-sectional study cohort was comprised of 54 RA-ILD patients and 92 RA-non-ILD patients. T/S ratios significantly differed between patients with and without prevalent ILD (1.56 [IQR 1.30, 1.78] vs. 1.96 [IQR 1.65, 2.27], p < 0.001). Similarly, prevalence of ILD was significantly higher in patients with short vs. normal-length telomeres (73.3% vs. 32.8%, p = 0.002). Short telomeres were independently associated with an increased odds of prevalent ILD compared to normal-length telomeres (adjusted OR 6.60, 95% CI 1.78-24.51, p = 0.005). In our case-control analysis, comprised of 22 incident RA-ILD cases and 36 RA-non-ILD controls, short telomeres were not associated with incident RA-ILD (adjusted OR 0.90, 95% CI 0.06-13.4, p = 0.94). CONCLUSION: Short telomeres were strongly associated with prevalent but not incident ILD among patients with RA. Additional studies are needed to better understand telomere length dynamics among RA patients with and without ILD.