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Depress Anxiety. 2018 May;35(5):431-439. doi: 10.1002/da.22732. Epub 2018 Feb 27.

Prospective association of depression and phobic anxiety with changes in telomere lengths over 11 years.

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Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Clinical Research Program, Barcelona Beta Brain Research Center, Barcelona, Spain.
Department of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Anxiety and Complicated Grief Program, Department of Psychiatry, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY, USA.
Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Medicine and Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.
Program in Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.



Although depression and anxiety have been associated with shorter telomeres in cross-sectional studies, the data regarding the prospective relations of depression and anxiety to accelerated telomere length shortening are limited and findings are mixed. We prospectively examined relations of baseline depression and phobic anxiety to subsequent 11-year change in relative leukocyte telomere lengths (LTLs).


We selected 1,250 women from a subcohort of the Nurses' Health Study who provided blood specimens at both blood collections (1989-1990 and 2000-2001). Depression was defined by self-reported regular antidepressant use or presence of severe depressive symptoms; anxiety symptoms were assessed using the Crown-Crisp Experiential Index. Using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction assay, LTLs were measured as the copy number ratio of telomere repeat to a single control gene. Changes in LTLs were defined in three ways: absolute change, symmetrized percent change, and decile shift.


Overall, there were no statistically significant associations of depression or phobic anxiety to subsequent 11-year LTL shortening, despite a point estimates in the direction of greater telomere shortening among participants with versus without depression, across all three metrics of telomere change. The strongest predictor of LTL change was baseline telomere length, and regression-to-the-mean was observed.


Baseline depression and phobic anxiety were not significantly associated with 11-year attrition in LTLs among 1,250 mid-life and older women. However, a suggestion of depression and greater subsequent LTL attrition, while not statistically significant, may warrant further inquiry, particularly in prospective studies with larger sample sizes and broader windows of the lifespan.


depression; phobic anxiety; prospective; telomere change; telomere length; women

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