Study of Survivors of Siege of Leningrad


Many of the diseases in Western civilization may be the result of ‘programming’ of the metabolism and function of a tissue, or organ as a result of diminished supply of certain nutrients during critical stages of development (‘thrifty phenotype’ hypothesis). Poor maternal nutrition has been implicated as a common antecedent for many of pathological conditions. World history accounts for numerous cases of famine, providing an opportunity to study the effects of extreme dietary restriction on wide populations. Among severe cases of such famine, the Dutch ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944—1945, Finnish famine of 1866—1868; Chinese Great famine of late 1950s to early 1960s; and Siege of Leningrad (1941—1944) are most known.

The Siege of Leningrad (later renamed to its historical name Saint-Petersburg) was one of the longest in the history (872 days: from 8 September 1941 to 27 January 1944) with 670,000 registered deaths of civil population (97% died due to starvation). The aim of our study was to assess the influence of starvation on telomere length and prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in survivors of Leningrad Siege during Second World War (1941—1944) comparing with control group and depending of the period of birth (before or after siege). Increasing of life-span in the developed countries led to the extension of interest to the problem of “healthy aging”. Public policies aim to promote well-being and ultimately the quality of later life. Our own study of Siege of Leningrad survivors aims investigating whether psychological and social parameters are associated with successful aging.

Database of the Siege of Leningrad survivors was provided by Saint-Petersburg Primorski (Seaside) District Society for Siege Survivors. All participants were interviewed by special questionnaire regarding risk factors, previous medical history and antihypertensive therapy. Blood pressure and anthropometry were performed according to standard guidelines. Echocardiography (Vivid 7) and electrocardiography were performed. The diagnosis of AF was exposed on the basis of anamnesis and ECG records. Fasting serum lipids and plasma glucose were measured on Hitachi-902. Control group of age and sex matched subjects (n=47, 67-84 years) was born in the other parts of USSR with no exposure to severe famine and lived in Leningrad after the Siege. Relative telomere lengths were measured by quantitative PCR and the ratio of telomere repeat copy number to single gene copy number (T/S) was calculated for each DNA sample. Informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Findings in our study Siege survivors can elucidate the mechanisms of healthy aging and emphasize the importance of reproductive health counseling and monitoring among women with eating disorders. Now the first step of follow–up is being performed.