||Dyskeratosis congenita (DC) is an inherited bone marrow failure syndrome with a complex clinical phenotype, including dysplastic nails, lacy reticular pigmentation, and oral leukoplakia (the diagnostic triad). Numerous other physical abnormalities may be present, in addition to cytopenias due to bone marrow failure, and a high risk of leukemia or solid tumors. However, many patients have no physical findings at diagnosis. Patients with DC have very short telomeres, and approximately one-half have a mutation in one of six genes important in telomere biology. Telomere length in leukocyte subsets, measured by automated flow fluorescence in situ hybridization (flow-FISH), is both sensitive and specific for identifying individuals with DC. Telomeres consist of nucleotide repeats and a protein complex at chromosome ends that are critical in chromosomal stability which shorten during normal cell division. Cross-sectional studies of normal individuals suggest that telomere length decreases with age in a sigmoid pattern from birth to old age. In a cross-sectional analysis of 26 patients with DC, we previously observed that telomere length appeared to be stable or even to slightly increase with age (BP Alter et al, Blood 110:149, 2007). Similar results were shown in 23 different DC patients by others (M Bessler et al, FEBS Lett 2010 in press). We speculated that these data were influenced by early presentation (or recognition) of clinically more severe patients, while patients with similar telomere length who were clinically milder were identified at older ages. In this pilot study, we examined, for the first time, the longitudinal age-association of telomere attrition in nine patients with DC who were followed for five to seven years (currently 8 - 50 years of age). These include three patients with mutations in TERC, and two each with TINF2, TERT, and DKC1 mutations. When first studied, four had normal hematopoiesis, three moderate cytopenias, one was receiving androgens, and one was on transfusions. Subsequently, one with normal hematopoiesis developed mild thrombocytopenia, one who was on transfusions responded to androgens, and one with moderate aplastic anemia became severe. In all cases, telomere length decreased with age. In a linear regression model, the average annual decrease in telomere length in lymphocytes was 167 base pairs/year (bp/yr) + 104, similar to the rate in granulocytes, 159 + 92 bp/yr. According to the literature, the rate of telomere attrition in longitudinal studies in normal blood is ~45-50 bp/yr, albeit by methods other than flow-FISH; the rate of telomere shortening appears to decrease with increasing age. The average patient Z-scores at the beginning of the study were -3.9 standard deviations below the median for age in healthy normal controls, and were -4.3 at the end, consistent with the impression that DC patient telomeres shorten somewhat more than expected from normal aging. These data support the hypothesis that the earlier cross-sectional results for patients with DC indeed were influenced by the cross-sectional rather than longitudinal nature of the data. The current longitudinal data suggest that telomere shortening could possibly be accelerated in patients with DC, but larger studies are required. Our results indicate that patients with DC have telomeres that are much shorter than normal for their age, and that over time they continue to shorten, consistent with DC being classified as a disorder of premature aging.