Background: Telomeres are protective nucleoprotein structures at the end of chromosomes that shorten with age. Telomere length (TL) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) has been proposed as surrogate marker for TL in the entire organism. Solid evidence that supports this concept is lacking.

Methods: Relative TL (RTL) was measured in PBMCS and multiple solid tissues from 24 young (4 months) and 24 aged (14 months) Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats. The mRNA expression of telomerase (TERT) and shelterin proteins TERF-1 and TERF-2 was also measured.

Results: Mean RTL in PBMCs and solid tissues of young rats ranged from 0.64 ± 0.26 in large intestine to 1.07 ± 0.22 in skeletal muscle. RTL in PBMCs correlated with that in kidney (r = 0.315, p = 0.008), skeletal muscle (r = 0.276, p = 0.022), liver (r = 0.269, p = 0.033), large intestine (r = −0.463, p = 7.035E-5) and aorta (r = −0.273, p = 0.028). A significant difference of RTL between young and aged animals was only observed in aorta (0.98 ± 0.15 vs. 0.76 ± 0.11, p = 1.987E-6), lung (0.76 ± 0.14 vs. 0.85 ± 0.14, p = 0.024) and visceral fat (0.83 ± 0.14 vs. 0.92 ± 0.15, p = 0.44). The expression of TERT significantly differed between the tested organs with highest levels in liver and kidney. Age-related differences in TERT expression were found in PBMCs, skeletal muscle, and visceral fat. mRNA expression of TERF-1 and TERF-2 was tissue-specific with the highest levels in liver. Age-related differences in TERF-1 and TERF-2 expression were inconsistent.

Conclusions: The present study questions the utility of RTL in PBMCs as a biomarker for the individual assessment of aging.