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Mol Psychiatry. 2013 May;18(5):576-81. doi: 10.1038/mp.2012.32. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

Exposure to violence during childhood is associated with telomere erosion from 5 to 10 years of age: a longitudinal study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Suite 201 Grey House, 2020 West Main Street, Box 104410, Durham, NC 27708, USA. idan.shalev@duke.edu

Abstract

There is increasing interest in discovering mechanisms that mediate the effects of childhood stress on late-life disease morbidity and mortality. Previous studies have suggested one potential mechanism linking stress to cellular aging, disease and mortality in humans: telomere erosion. We examined telomere erosion in relation to children's exposure to violence, a salient early-life stressor, which has known long-term consequences for well-being and is a major public-health and social-welfare problem. In the first prospective-longitudinal study with repeated telomere measurements in children while they experienced stress, we tested the hypothesis that childhood violence exposure would accelerate telomere erosion from age 5 to age 10 years. Violence was assessed as exposure to maternal domestic violence, frequent bullying victimization and physical maltreatment by an adult. Participants were 236 children (49% females; 42% with one or more violence exposures) recruited from the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative 1994-1995 birth cohort. Each child's mean relative telomere length was measured simultaneously in baseline and follow-up DNA samples, using the quantitative PCR method for T/S ratio (the ratio of telomere repeat copy numbers to single-copy gene numbers). Compared with their counterparts, the children who experienced two or more kinds of violence exposure showed significantly more telomere erosion between age-5 baseline and age-10 follow-up measurements, even after adjusting for sex, socioeconomic status and body mass index (B=-0.052, s.e.=0.021, P=0.015). This finding provides support for a mechanism linking cumulative childhood stress to telomere maintenance, observed already at a young age, with potential impact for life-long health.

PMID:
22525489
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3616159
Free PMC Article

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