Progressive telomere shortening with aging was studied using normal esophageal mucosal specimens from 177 human subjects aged between 0 and 102 years (yrs). We observed age-related shortening of the telomere, at a rate of 60 base pairs (bp) per year (yr). The mean telomere length of 12 neonates was 15.2 kilobase pairs (kbp) and that of 2 centenarians was 9.3 kbp. Mean (±SD) telomere lengths were 14.9±1.3, 14.0±1.8, 10.1±3.7, 10.4±3.3 and 9.5±3.1 kbp for the age groups less than 2 yrs, 2–20 yrs, 21–60 yrs, 61–80 yrs and 81–102 yrs, respectively. The variation in telomere length among individuals in the same age group was greater for the 3 older groups than for the 2 younger groups, as shown by the SDs. Furthermore, older individuals had greater telomere length variation than younger individuals, based on the lengths of DNA digested smears. Although the telomere length decreased significantly with aging at the rate of 60 bp per yr, differences in the mean telomere lengths between the 3 older age groups were not significant. Rapid shortening occurred in the young generations and there was no further substantial decrease in the esophageal mucosa after 60 yrs of age. Compared to the very rapid renewal rate of the esophageal epithelial cells, the annual reduction rate in telomere length was very low. These findings support the hypothesis that germ cells in the esophageal epithelium have a mechanism to lengthen telomeres.