Risk of Common Cold Predicted by Shorter Telomeres (Video)

First Posted: Feb 20, 2013 01:04 PM EST

There may be a reason why some people catch a cold more easily than others. Researchers have identified a biological marker in the immune system that predicts our ability to fight off the common cold.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), looked at the length of a person's telomeres, which are protective cap-like protein complexes at the end of chromosomes. In previous studies, telomere length had been associated as a biomarker of aging. Telomeres shorten with increased chronological age and as they do, they lose their ability to function normally and eventually die. Having shorter telomeres is also associated with early onset of aging related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer--it's even found to have a connection with mortality in older adults.

Led by Sheldon Cohen, the researchers measured the telomere length of white blood cells from 152 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55. These individuals were then exposed to a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. Researchers then quarantined the participants for five days to see if they developed the cold.

In the end, researchers found that those with shorter telomeres were more likely to become sick. They also found that while there was no relation between telomere length and the possibility of getting the cold in the youngest participants (those between the ages of 18 to 21), starting at the age of 22 there was a correlation. In fact, the older the person was, the stronger the correlation was.

"Our work suggests the possibility that telomere length is a relatively consistent marker across the life span and that it can start predicting disease susceptibility in young adulthood," said Cohen in a press release.

The findings could have implications for future research with age-related diseases. However, Cohen was quick to emphasize that the research was preliminary, and that further work with other viruses and natural infections would be needed.

Want to learn more about the research? Check out the video below, courtesy of Carnegie Mellon.

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