Telomeres and the natural lifespan limit in humans

Troels Steenstrup, Jeremy D. Kark, Simon Verhulst, Mikael Thinggaard, Jacob V.B. Hjelmborg, Christine Dalgård, Kirsten Ohm Kyvik, Lene Christiansen, Massimo Mangino, Timothy D. Spector, Inge Petersen, Masayuki Kimura, Athanase Benetos, Carlos Labat, Ronit Sinnreich, Shih Jen Hwang, Daniel Levy, Steven C. Hunt, Annette L. Fitzpatrick, Wei ChenGerald S. Berenson, Michelangela Barbieri, Giuseppe Paolisso, Shahinaz M. Gadalla, Sharon A. Savage, Kaare Christensen, Anatoliy I. Yashin, Konstantin G. Arbeev, Abraham Aviv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Citations (Scopus)


An ongoing debate in demography has focused on whether the human lifespan has a maximal natural limit. Taking a mechanistic perspective, and knowing that short telomeres are associated with diminished longevity, we examined whether telomere length dynamics during adult life could set a maximal natural lifespan limit. We define leukocyte telomere length of 5 kb as the 'telomeric brink', which denotes a high risk of imminent death. We show that a subset of adults may reach the telomeric brink within the current life expectancy and more so for a 100-year life expectancy. Thus secular trends in life expectancy should confront a biological limit due to crossing the telomeric brink.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1130-1142
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017



  • Leukocytes
  • Life-expectancy
  • Longevity
  • Maximal lifespan
  • Sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Cell Biology

Cite this

Steenstrup, T., Kark, J. D., Verhulst, S., Thinggaard, M., Hjelmborg, J. V. B., Dalgård, C., Kyvik, K. O., Christiansen, L., Mangino, M., Spector, T. D., Petersen, I., Kimura, M., Benetos, A., Labat, C., Sinnreich, R., Hwang, S. J., Levy, D., Hunt, S. C., Fitzpatrick, A. L., ... Aviv, A. (2017). Telomeres and the natural lifespan limit in humans. Aging, 9(4), 1130-1142.