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Biol Res Nurs. 2012 Apr;14(2):115-23. doi: 10.1177/1099800411398479. Epub 2011 Mar 8.

Telomere shortening in formerly abused and never abused women.

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Department of Family Health Care Nursing, School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Recent studies suggest that chronic psychological stress may accelerate aging at the cellular level. Telomeres are protective components that stabilize the ends of chromosomes and modulate cellular aging. Women exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) experience chronic stress and report worse health. The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine telomeric DNA length in women who have experienced chronic stress related to IPV. We hypothesized that IPV exposure would be associated with shorter telomere length. The investigation used a cross-sectional design to study telomere length in women with a history of IPV exposure and control women who reported no prior exposure to IPV. Advertisements and public notices were used to recruit a convenience sample of healthy women. Mean leukocyte telomere length was measured in DNA samples from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) by a quantitative polymerase chain reaction assay (qPCR). Telomere length was significantly shorter in the 61 formerly abused women compared to the 41 controls (t = 2.4, p = .02). Length of time in the abusive relationship and having children were associated with telomere length after controlling for age and body mass index (BMI) (F(2, 99) = 10.23, p < .001). Numerous studies suggest that women who experience IPV have poorer overall health. It is often presumed that the stress of IPV may be causing greater morbidity. Findings from this descriptive study suggest a link between IPV exposure, duration of IPV-related stress, and telomere length molecular mechanisms that regulate cellular aging.

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