How Telomere Dysfunction Affects Female Fertility (A Mouse Study)

In a new study, researchers aimed to reveal a link between telomere dysfunction, ovarian aging and infertility using a mouse model of accelerated-reproductive senescence.

Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that prevent DNA damage and maintain genomic stability. However, telomeres shorten with each cell division and eventually reach a critical length that triggers cellular senescence or death. Telomere length (TL) and telomerase activity (TA), the enzyme that replenishes telomeric repeats, are influenced by genetic and environmental factors and vary among tissues and individuals.

“Telomere attrition has been identified as one of the molecular determinants of aging [7].”

Telomere dysfunction has been implicated in various age-related diseases, including infertility. Ovarian aging is the main cause of infertility in women, as it leads to a decline in both the quantity and quality of oocytes. Previous studies have shown that TL and TA are reduced in oocytes and granulosa cells of women with diminished ovarian reserve or poor response to ovarian stimulation. Moreover, TL and TA have been associated with ovarian reserve markers and pregnancy outcomes in assisted reproductive technologies.

To better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying ovarian aging and infertility, researchers Alba M. Polonio, Marta Medrano, Lucía Chico-Sordo, Isabel Córdova-Oriz, Mauro Cozzolino, José Montans, Sonia Herraiz, Emre Seli, Antonio Pellicer, Juan A. García-Velasco, and Elisa Varela from The Health Research Institute La Fe (IIS La Fe), IVIRMA Rome, New Jersey and Madrid, Centro Anatomopatológico, Yale School of Medicine, University of Valencia, and Rey Juan Carlos University conducted a new study using a mouse model of accelerated aging: the Senescence-Accelerated Mouse Prone 8 (SAMP8). On May 23, 2023, their research paper was published in Aging’s Volume 15, Issue 11, entitled, “Impaired telomere pathway and fertility in Senescence-Accelerated Mice Prone 8 females with reproductive senescence.”

The Study

The SAMP8 mouse model, which has previously been suggested as an Alzheimer’s disease model of aging, also exhibits a shortened estrous cycle, elevated follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, and reduced fertility in females at just seven months of age. SAMP8 mice have a shorter lifespan compared to senescence-accelerated mouse resistant 1 (SAMR1) mice. SAMR1 mice do not exhibit reproductive senescence. Thus, the researchers deemed the SAMR1 mouse model an appropriate control group to study the SAMP8 mouse model as a model of ovarian aging and infertility. 

“In the current study, we sought to investigate whether the SAMP8 mice, which show accelerated-reproductive senescence, have alterations in their telomere pathway. This question has not yet been explored in relation to reproduction in this model.”

In this study, the team compared the TL and TA in blood and ovary samples from the SAMP8 female mice at seven months of age (when they show signs of reproductive senescence) with age-matched control SAMR1 mice. They also evaluated the ovarian follicle development, the expression of telomerase subunits (TERT and TERC), and the reproductive outcomes after ovarian stimulation in both groups of mice. In sum, the researchers measured survival rates (in male and female mice), alteration in the telomere pathway at seven months of age, TERT and TERC expression levels, TA on the TL of granulosa cells in developing follicles, and impairment/alterations in the telomere pathway in oogenesis and embryo development.

The results revealed that SAMP8 females had a reduced median lifespan compared to SAMP8 males and SAMR1 males and females. In blood, SAMP8 females had lower mean TL and higher accumulation of short telomeres than the other mice. In ovary, SAMP8 females had lower TA and TERT expression. Furthermore, SAMP8 females had fewer primordial, primary, secondary, and antral follicles than control females, indicating a diminished ovarian reserve. After ovarian stimulation, SAMP8 females had a lower number of oocytes than controls of the same age. Their results suggested that oogenesis and embryo development is impaired in SAMP8 mice at seven months compared to age-matched controls, and this coincides with alterations in the telomere pathway.


“Thus, SAMP8 females represent a bona fide model for the analysis of fertility, not only because it shows similar phenotype to middle-aged women as stated earlier [43], but also because the alterations in the telomere pathway are found in women with fertility disorders [37, 38, 40, 41] and this pathway links reproduction with longevity.”

The researchers concluded that SAMP8 females have impaired telomere pathway and fertility, reflecting signs of reproductive senescence described in middle-aged women. They suggested that the SAMP8 model could be useful in studying the role of telomere dysfunction in ovarian aging and infertility. In addition, this mouse model could be used to test potential therapeutic interventions to improve female reproductive health.

“Understanding the molecular pathways underlying aging and fertility, provides a basis for further studies focused on several topics. First, the analysis of embryo alterations, which can be better assessed in mice than in humans. Second, how reproductive lifespan improvement may ameliorate elderly health. And third, the mechanisms underlying follicle recruitment and development, which are not completely known.”

Click here to read the full research paper published by Aging.

Aging is an open-access, peer-reviewed journal that has been publishing high-impact papers in all fields of aging research since 2009. These papers are available to readers (at no cost and free of subscription barriers) in bi-monthly issues at

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Pressurized Oxygen Therapy Can Reverse Mechanisms of Aging

For the first time, researchers demonstrate that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can reverse the mechanisms that mark the aging process.

Oxygen molecules and erythrocytes floating in a vessel in the blood stream.
Oxygen molecules and erythrocytes floating in a vessel in the blood stream.
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Aging is the progressive loss of physiological integrity, which results in impaired functionality and increased susceptibility to diseases, and ultimately death. For the first time, researchers collaborated in an in vivo study to observe the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on cellular mechanisms to reverse aging.

Researchers based out of Israel from Shamir Medical Center, Tel-Aviv University, and Bar Ilan University published a groundbreaking new paper titled, “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases telomere length and decreases immunosenescence in isolated blood cells : a prospective trial,” in the open access journal, Aging. The importance of this study hinges on understanding the mechanisms of aging that were evaluated by the researchers.

“At the cellular level, two key hallmarks of the aging process include telomere length (TL) shortening and cellular senescence.”

Telomere Length

Telomeres (TLs) function to protect chromosomes from DNA damage and are located at the end of the chromosome. In each instance of cell division, the telomeres shorten due to an inherent inability to fully replicate the DNA strand. Given that cells can only replicate a finite number of times before they can no longer engage in mitosis, the shortening of telomeres has been shown in adults to lead to increased rates of mortality.

Researchers in this study also provide examples of studies that are finding a number of pharmacological agents capable of reducing the shortening rate of telomeres.

“Shortened TLs can be a direct inherited trait, but several environmental factors have also been associated with shortening TL, including stress, lack of physical endurance activity, excess body mass index, smoking, chronic inflammation, vitamins deficiency, and oxidative stress [2, 8, 9].”

Cellular Senescence

The other hallmark mechanism of the aging process is cellular senescence. Previously, senescent cells have been viewed as mechanisms that protect the body against cancer through cell-cycle arrest, however, recent discoveries have found that they also have a role in processes such as development, tissue repair, aging, and age-related disorders. The phase of senescence can be triggered by telomere shortening and other non-telomeric DNA damage.

“The primary purpose of senescence is to prevent propagation of damaged cells by triggering their elimination via the immune system. The accumulation of senescent cells with aging reflects either an increase in the generation of these cells and/or a decrease in their clearance, which in turn aggravates the damage and contributes to aging [1].”

Oxidative Stress

In this well-written paper, the researchers introduce the topic by citing numerous interventional studies measuring the association between telomere length and lifestyle modifications. Studies include the measuring of diet, supplements, physical activity, stress management, and social support. However, the team found that the most common mechanism associated with telomere shortening is oxidative stress.

“Oxidative stress can occur from imbalances between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and cellular scavengers.”

Previous studies indicate that telomeres are highly sensitive to oxidative DNA damage which occurs due to an excess of reactive oxygen species (ROS), or molecular oxygen by-products. The excess formation of these ROS occurs through the sequential reduction of oxygen via the addition of electrons and a lack of scavenger cells to digest excess microorganisms. This leads to the shortening of telomeres.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been observed to stimulate brain function and increase cognitive ability in previous studies. HBOT involves patients breathing in 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber on a repeated basis. Being in this type of environment increases the amount of oxygen that is dissolved in the blood and tissue. Increasing oxygen levels in the body using pure oxygen on a daily basis can induce the hormesis phenomenon. This eustress type of therapy has been shown to have beneficial and positive effects on the body and mind.

“Single exposures [to HBOT] increase ROS generation acutely, triggering the antioxidant response, and with repeated exposures, the response becomes protective [13, 18].”

The Study

This study was designed to evaluate the effects of HBOT on the telomeres and concentrations of senescent cells in aging/healthy adults. Thirty-five participants living independently at 64+ years of age received HBOT exposures daily, over the course of 60 days.

Researchers collected whole blood samples prior to intervention (baseline), at the 30th and 60th session, and 1-2 weeks after the last HBOT session. They assessed the telomere lengths and senescence of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in each participant’s blood sample.

Figure 3. Senescent cell changes with HBOT.
Figure 3. Senescent cell changes with HBOT.

“In this study, for the first time in humans, it was found that repeated daily HBOT sessions can increase PBMC telomere length by more than 20% in an aging population, with B cells having the most striking change. In addition, HBOT decreased the number of senescent cells by 10-37%, with T helper senescent cells being the most affected.”


Following HBOT, telomere lengths increased by over 20% in T helper, T cytotoxic, natural killer, and B cells. There was also a significant decrease in the number of senescent T cytotoxic and T helper cells observed in the participant blood samples, allowing for new healthy cells to regenerate.

“In conclusion, the study indicates that HBOT may induce significant senolytic effects including significantly increasing telomere length and clearance of senescent cells in the aging populations.”

Click here to read the full scientific paper, published in Aging.

Learn more about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

Aging is an open-access journal that publishes research papers monthly in all fields of aging research and other topics. These papers are available to read at no cost to readers on Open-access journals offer information that has the potential to benefit our societies from the inside out and may be shared with friends, neighbors, colleagues and other researchers, far and wide.

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