Variants in a gene cluster upstream-adjacent to TERC on human chromosome 3, which includes genes APRM, LRRC31, LRRC34 and MYNN, have been associated with telomere length in several human populations. Currently, the mechanism by which variants in the TERC gene cluster influence telomere length in humans is unknown. Given the proximity between the TERC gene cluster and TERC (~0.05 Mb) in humans, it is speculated that cluster variants are in linkage disequilibrium with a TERC causal variant. In mice, the Terc gene/Terc gene cluster are also located on chromosome 3; however, the Terc gene cluster is located distantly downstream of Terc (~60 Mb). Here, we initially aim to investigate the interactions between genotype and nicotine exposure on absolute liver telomere length (aTL) in a panel of eight inbred mouse strains. Although we found no significant impact of nicotine on liver aTL, this first experiment identified candidate single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the murine Terc gene cluster (within genes Lrrc31, Lrriq4 and Mynn) co-varying with aTL in our panel. In a second experiment, we tested the association of these Terc gene cluster variants with liver aTL in an independent panel of eight inbred mice selected based on candidate SNP genotype. This supported our initial finding that Terc gene cluster polymorphisms impact aTL in mice, consistent with data in human populations. This provides support for mice as a model for telomere dynamics, especially for studying mechanisms underlying the association between Terc cluster variants and telomere length. Finally, these data suggest that mechanisms independent of linkage disequilibrium between the Terc/TERC gene cluster and the Terc/TERC gene mediate the cluster’s regulation of telomere length.
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