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Telomere length (TL) has been suggested to be a surrogate for cellular ageing, and a record of cumulative inflammation and oxidative stress over life. An emerging body of evidence has associated exposure to air pollution to changes in TL. To date there is no available systematic review of literature on this association. We aimed to systematically review and conduct meta-analysis of published studies on the relationship between air pollution and TL in adults. Electronic databases were systematically searched for available English language studies on the association between air pollution and TL published up to 1 July 2018. Meta-analyses were conducted following MOOSE guidelines. The heterogeneity in the reported associations was assessed using Cochran's Q test and quantified as I2 index. Publication bias was assessed using Egger's regression. Our search identified 19 eligible studies including 11 retrospective and eight prospective studies of which, four had excellent quality, ten had good quality and five had fair quality. Meta-analysis result of two studies on long-term exposure to PM2.5 showed an inverse association between these exposures and TL (for 5 μg/m3 PM2.5-0.03 95% CI; -0.05, -0.01). Meta-analysis of short-term exposure to PM2.5 with three studies and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) with two studies revealed a direct association between these exposures and TL (0.03 95% CI; 0.02, 0.04 and 0.10 95% CI; 0.06, 0.15 respectively). No statistically significant relationship between exposure to PM10 and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) exposure and TL were observed. We observed suggestive evidence for associations between air pollution and TL with potentially different direction of associations for short- and long-term exposures.

Original publication




Journal article


Environ Pollut

Publication Date





636 - 647


Adult, Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Environmental Exposure, Female, Humans, Male, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Prospective Studies, Retrospective Studies, Telomere, Telomere Homeostasis