Journal Article

Telomere length in Chernobyl accident recovery workers in the late period after the disaster

Jelena Reste, Gunda Zvigule, Tija Zvagule, Natalja Kurjane, Maija Eglite, Natalija Gabruseva, Dace Berzina, Juris Plonis and Edvins Miklasevics

in Journal of Radiation Research

Volume 55, issue 6, pages 1089-1100
Published in print November 2014 | ISSN: 0449-3060
Published online July 2014 | e-ISSN: 1349-9157 | DOI:

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  • Clinical Genetics
  • Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Epidemiology
  • Radiology
  • Nuclear Chemistry, Photochemistry, and Radiation


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The outcome of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (CNPP) accident was that a huge number of people were exposed to ionizing radiation. Previous studies of CNPP clean-up workers from Latvia revealed a high occurrence of age-associated degenerative diseases and cancer in young adults, as well as a high mortality as a result of cardiovascular disorders at age 45–54 years. DNA tandem repeats that cap chromosome ends, known as telomeres, are sensitive to oxidative damage and exposure to ionizing radiation. Telomeres are important in aging processes and carcinogenesis. The aim of this study was to investigate the long-term effect of protracted ionizing radiation exposure on telomere length in CNPP clean-up workers. Relative telomere length (RTL) was measured in peripheral blood leukocytes of 595 CNPP clean-up workers and 236 gender- and age-matched controls using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (q-PCR). Close attention was paid to participation year and tasks performed during the worker's stay in Chernobyl, health status, and RTL differences between subgroups. Telomere shortening was not found in CNPP clean-up workers; on the contrary, their RTL was slightly greater than in controls (P = 0.001). Longer telomeres were found in people who worked during 1986, in those undertaking ‘dirty’ tasks (digging and deactivation), and in people with cancer. Shorter telomeres appeared frequently in those with cataract, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, or coronary heart disease. We conclude that the longer telomeres revealed in people more heavily exposed to ionizing radiation probably indicate activation of telomerase as a chromosome healing mechanism following damage, and reflect defects in telomerase regulation that could potentiate carcinogenesis.

Keywords: aging-associated diseases; cancer; Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident; clean-up worker; protracted radiation exposure; telomere length

Journal Article.  7093 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Clinical Genetics ; Molecular Biology and Genetics ; Epidemiology ; Radiology ; Nuclear Chemistry, Photochemistry, and Radiation

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