Jonathan K. Alder, Mary Armanios

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Parenchymal lung disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States; among the top causes, it continues on the rise. Telomeres and telomerase have historically been linked to cellular processes related to aging and cancer, but surprisingly, in the recent decade genetic discoveries have linked the most apparent manifestations of telomere and telomerase dysfunction in humans to the etiology of lung disease: both idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and emphysema. The short telomere defect is pervasive in a subset of IPF patients, and human IPF is the phenotype most intimately tied to germline defects in telomere maintenance. One-third of families with pulmonary fibrosis carry germline mutations in telomerase or other telomere maintenance genes, and one-half of patients with apparently sporadic IPF have short telomere length. Beyond explaining genetic susceptibility, short telomere length uncovers clinically relevant syndromic extrapulmonary disease, including a T-cell immunodeficiency and a propensity to myeloid malignancies. Recognition of this subset of patients who share a unifying molecular defect has provided a precision medicine paradigm wherein the telomere-mediated lung disease diagnosis provides more prognostic value than histopathology or multidisciplinary evaluation. Here, we critically evaluate this progress, emphasizing how the genetic findings put forth a new pathogenesis paradigm of age-related lung disease that links telomere abnormalities to alveolar stem senescence, remodeling, and defective gas exchange.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1703-1720
Number of pages18
JournalPhysiological reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • emphysema
  • pulmonary fibrosis
  • senescence
  • stem cells
  • telomerase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology (medical)


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