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Telomere shortening is a hallmark of aging. Telomere length (TL) in blood cells has been studied extensively as a biomarker of human aging and disease; however, little is known regarding variability in TL in non-blood, disease-relevant tissue types. Here we characterize variability in TL measurements for 6,391 tissue samples, representing >20 tissue types and 952 individuals from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) Project. We describe differences across tissue types, positive correlation among tissue types, and associations with age and ancestry. We show that genetic variation impacts TL in multiple tissue types, and that TL can mediate the effect of age on gene expression. Our results provide the foundational knowledge regarding TL in healthy tissues that is needed to interpret epidemiological studies of TL and human health.

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