We measured telomere lengths of blood leukocytes in several inbred and outbred mammalian species, using a telomere-specific fluorescent probe and flow cytometry. Humans, non-human primates, and three outbred populations of Peromyscus mice ( Peromyscus leucopus, Peromyscus maniculatus, and Peromyscus polionotus) have short telomeres. Two common strains of laboratory mice, C57BL/6J and DBA/2J, have telomeres several times longer than most other mammals surveyed. Moreover, the two inbred laboratory mouse strains display significantly different telomere lengths, suggesting the existence of strain-specific genetic determinants. To further examine the effects of inbreeding, we studied three Peromyscus leucopus inbred lines (GS109, GS16A1, and GS16B), all derived from the outbred P. leucopus stock. Telomeres of all three inbred lines are significantly lengthened relative to outbred P. leucopus, and the three lines display strain-specific significantly different telomere lengths, much like the C57BL/6J and DBA/2J strains of M. musculus. To further characterize the genetic inheritance of telomere length, we carried out several crosses to obtain hybrid F(1) mice between parental strains displaying the phenotype of long and short telomeres. In all F(1) mice assayed, peripheral blood leukocyte telomere length was intermediate to that of the parents. Additionally, we generated F(2) mice from a cross of the ( P. leucopus outbred x GS16B)F(1). Based on the distribution of telomere length in the F(2) population, we determined that more than five loci contribute to telomere length regulation in Peromyscus. We concluded that inbreeding, through unknown mechanisms, results in the elongation of telomeres, and that telomere length for a given species and/or sub-strain is genetically determined by multiple segregating loci.
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