Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes from damage, and genetic regulation of their length is associated with human disease and ageing. We developed a joint telomere length (TL) metric, combining both qPCR and whole genome sequencing (WGS) measurements across 462,675 UK Biobank participants that increased our ability to capture TL heritability by 36% (h2mean=0.058 to h2combined=0.079) and improved predictions of age. Exome-wide rare variant (minor allele frequency<0.001) and gene-level collapsing association studies identified 53 variants and 22 genes significantly associated with TL that included allelic series in ACD and RTEL1. Five of the 31 rare-variant TL associated genes (16%) were also known drivers of clonal haematopoiesis (CH), prompting somatic variant analyses. Stratifying by CH clone size, we uncovered novel gene-specific associations with TL, including lengthened telomeres in individuals with large SRSF2-mutant clones, in contrast to the progressive telomere shortening observed with increasing clonal expansions driven by other CH genes. Our findings demonstrate the impact of rare variants on TL with larger effects in genes associated with CH, a precursor of myeloid cancers and several other non-malignant human diseases. Telomere biology is likely to be an important focus for the prevention and treatment of these conditions.Competing Interest Statement
OB,RD,SV,SW,AN,JM,FH,KS,NR,HO,AP,DV,QW,RM,SW,KC,MF,QW,MP and SP are current employees and/or stockholders of AstraZenecaFunding Statement
This study did not receive any fundingAuthor Declarations
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