Beta-carotene, telomerase activity and Alzheimer’s disease in old age subjects

Virginia Boccardi, Beatrice Arosio, Luigi Cari, Patrizia Bastiani, Michela Scamosci, Martina Casati, Evelyn Ferri, Laura Bertagnoli, Simona Ciccone, Paolo Dionigi Rossi, Giuseppe Nocentini, Patrizia Mecocci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Advancing age represents the strongest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and the identification of biomarkers able to define what characterizes physiological aging from AD may represent a potential starting point for novel preventive strategies. Among these biomarkers, telomeres seem to be a promising target. Interestingly, high intake of carotenoid-rich food may play a role in protecting telomeres by oxidative stress reduction. Accordingly, low plasma β-carotene concentrations have been found in AD subjects when compared with cognitively healthy subjects. In this study, we aim at investigating the hypothesis that low β-carotene might be associated with markers of accelerated cellular aging, including leucocyte telomere length (LTL) and peripheral mononuclear cell (PBMC) telomerase activity in a cohort of old age subjects. Methods: The study was conducted in 68 old age subjects, 37 AD, and 31 age-matched healthy controls. In all subjects, β-carotene plasma level, LTL and peripheral telomerase activity were measured. Results: In all populations, β-carotene significantly and positively (r = 0.320, p = 0.008) correlated with telomerase activity, independent of gender. A model having telomerase activity levels as the dependent variable, and age, gender, smoking habit, and β-carotene as independent variables, confirmed that β-carotene was independently associated with telomerase activity (β = 0.319, p = 0.012). Subjects affected by AD had significantly lower plasmatic levels of β-carotene (448 ± 66 mg/ml vs 497 ± 59 mg/ml, p = 0.001) and LTL (0.53 ± 0.25 vs 0.69 ± 0.29; p = 0.009) as compared with healthy controls. Β-carotene plasma level was associated with AD diagnosis (OR 0.988; IC95% 0.978–0.997; p = 0.013) independently of age, gender, smoking habit, ApoE genotype, and LTL. Conclusion: Our data show that β-carotene may modulate telomerase activity in old age. Moreover, lower plasma β-carotene levels, correlating with peripheral telomerase activity, are associated with AD diagnosis independent of multiple covariates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-126
JournalEuropean Journal of Nutrition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Aging
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Carotenoid
  • Dementia
  • Nutrition
  • Telomerase
  • Telomeres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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