Do glucocorticoids mediate the link between environmental conditions and telomere dynamics in wild vertebrates? A review

Abstract : Following the discoveries of telomeres and of their implications in terms of health and ageing, there has been a growing interest into the study of telomere dynamics in wild vertebrates. Telomeres are repeated sequences of non-coding DNA located at the terminal ends of chromosomes and they play a major role in maintaining chromosome stability. Importantly, telomeres shorten over time and shorter telomeres seem to be related with lower survival in vertebrates. Because of this potential link with longevity, it is crucial to understand not only the ecological determinants of telomere dynamics but also the regulatory endocrine mechanisms that may mediate the effect of the environment on telomeres. In this paper, we review the relationships that link environmental conditions, glucocorticoids (GC, the main hormonal mediator of allostasis) and telomere length in vertebrates. First, we review current knowledge about the determinants of inter-individual variations in telomere length. We emphasize the potential strong impact of environmental stressors and predictable life-history events on telomere dynamics. Despite recent progress, we still lack crucial basic data to fully understand the costs of several life-history stages and biotic and abiotic factors on telomere length. Second, we review the link that exists between GCs, oxidative stress and telomere dynamics in vertebrates. Although circulating GC levels may be closely and functionally linked with telomere dynamics, data are still scarce and somewhat contradictory. Further laboratory and field studies are therefore needed not only to better assess the proximate link between GC levels and telomere dynamics, but also to ultimately understand to what extent GCs and telomere length could be informative to measure the fitness costs of specific life-history stages and environmental conditions. Finally, we highlight the importance of exploring the functional links that may exist between coping styles, the GC stress response, and telomere dynamics in a life-history framework. To conclude, we raise new hypotheses regarding the potential of the GC stress response to drive the trade-off between immediate survival and telomere protection.
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Submitted on : Thursday, August 17, 2017 - 9:59:07 AM
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Frédéric Angelier, David Costantini, Pierre Blévin, Olivier Chastel. Do glucocorticoids mediate the link between environmental conditions and telomere dynamics in wild vertebrates? A review. General and Comparative Endocrinology, Elsevier, 2018, pp.99-111. ⟨10.1016/j.ygcen.2017.07.007⟩. ⟨hal-01574969⟩

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