Send to

Choose Destination
Depress Anxiety. 2019 Jun;36(6):565-575. doi: 10.1002/da.22892. Epub 2019 Apr 8.

The relation of telomere length at midlife to subsequent 20-year depression trajectories among women.

Author information

Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts.
Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, New York, New York.
Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.



Telomeres cap and protect DNA but shorten with each somatic cell division. Aging and environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to the speed of telomere attrition. Current evidence suggests a link between relative telomere length (RTL) and depression but the directionality of the relationship remains unclear. We prospectively examined associations between RTL and subsequent depressive symptom trajectories.


Among 8,801 women of the Nurses' Health Study, depressive symptoms were measured every 4 years from 1992 to 2012; group-based trajectories of symptoms were identified using latent class growth-curve analysis. Multinomial logistic models were used to relate midlife RTLs to the probabilities of assignment to subsequent depressive symptom trajectory groups.


We identified four depressive symptom trajectory groups: minimal depressive symptoms (62%), worsening depressive symptoms (14%), improving depressive symptoms (19%), and persistent-severe depressive symptoms (5%). Longer midlife RTLs were related to significantly lower odds of being in the worsening symptoms trajectory versus minimal trajectory but not to other trajectories. In comparison with being in the minimal symptoms group, the multivariable-adjusted odds ratio of being in the worsening depressive symptoms group was 0.78 (95% confidence interval, 0.62-0.97; p = 0.02), for every standard deviation increase in baseline RTL.


In this large prospective study of generally healthy women, longer telomeres at midlife were associated with significantly lower risk of a subsequent trajectory of worsening mood symptoms over 20 years. The results raise the possibility of telomere shortening as a novel contributing factor to late-life depression.


depression; depressive symptoms; late-life; telomeres; trajectories

[Available on 2020-06-01]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center