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High lead exposure is associated with telomere length shortening in Chinese battery manufacturing plant workers
  1. Yixing Wu1,2,
  2. Yimin Liu2,
  3. Na Ni3,
  4. Bei Bao2,
  5. Cheng Zhang2,
  6. Lingeng Lu3
  1. 1Department of Internal Medicine, The Fourth Hospital Affiliated to Guangzhou Medical College, Guangzhou, China
  2. 2Department of Occupational Disease, Guangzhou No.12 Hospital Affiliated to Guangzhou Medical College, Guangzhou, China
  3. 3Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Yixing Wu, Department of Occupational Disease, Guangzhou No.12 Affiliated Hospital, Guangzhou Medical College, Guangzhou, Guangdong 510620, China; wyxingz{at}


Objectives Critically shortening of telomere length caused by various factors including environmental pollutants results in genome instability and age-associated diseases. Lead is one of the ubiquitous environmental and occupational pollutants, potentially affecting public health even at a low level. However, it is still unclear whether lead exposure affects telomere length. This study aims to investigate the association between lead exposure and peripheral white blood cell telomere length (PWBTL) in Chinese battery manufacturing plant workers.

Methods Lead levels in blood (BLL) and urine (ULL) were evaluated using flame atomic absorption spectrometry and lead mobilisation test for body lead burden (BLB) assessment, respectively. Quantitative PCR was employed to determine relative PWBTL. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to examine the associations of telomere length and other variables.

Results PWBTL averaged 1.76 (telomere/single-copy gene of albumin, T/S) in 144 battery plant workers. Significantly shorter PWBTL was observed in the workers with abnormal BLL and/or ULL than those with normal ones (1.66±0.63 vs 1.91±0.46, p=0.010). In all workers, PWBTL was in negative correlations with BLL, ULL, time working at the plant (working length) and body mass index. A strong inverse correlation was observed between PWBTL and BLB (r=−0.70, p<0.0001) in those with abnormal BLL and ULL. GLMSELECT model showed in the subgroup of inpatient workers, working length and BLB were significantly in inverse associations with PWBTL, while BLL was in weak positive association with PWBTL.

Conclusions These findings suggest that PWBTL shortening is associated with long-term lead exposure and that PWBTL may be one of the targets damaged by lead toxicity.

  • Telomere length
  • lead exposure
  • battery workers
  • blood lead levels (BLL)
  • body lead burden (BLB)
  • epidemiology
  • cancer
  • pollution
  • genotoxicity
  • cross-sectional studies

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  • Funding This study was supported by the Key Program of Medical Scientific Research Foundation of Guangzhou Municipality (No.2007-Zdi-02) of Guangdong Province, China.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by University Ethical Review Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.