Emerging evidence suggests that epigenetics regulates telomere dynamics in adults. However, the relationship between these pathways in children and youth remains unknown. Thus, we examined this association in 542 healthy adolescents aged 14 to 18 years old (44.8% African Americans; 55.2% females). Global DNA methylation level (%5-mC) was quantified using ELISA method. Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) was defined as relative telomere to single copy gene (T/S) ratio. Multiple linear regression models, adjusted for age, gender, ethnicity, Tanner stage, BMI, PA, and batch effect, revealed that %5 mC was associated with LTL (adjusted β = 0.17, p < 0.01). %5 mC accounted for 5.0% of the variation for LTL. A significant gender interaction was identified (p < 0.01). There was an association between %5 mC and LTL in females (all ps < 0.01), but not in males. Further sensitivity analyses by race revealed similar associations in African Americans and whites (all ps < 0.03). The present study, for the first time, shows that lower levels of global DNA methylation are associated with shorter telomere lengths in youth, which may decrease genome stability and augment the susceptibility to diseases. Longitudinal studies are warranted to establish the effects of global DNA methylation on LTL maintenance over time.
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