Telomeres Show Signs of Early-Life Stress

Reduction in telomere length is associated with stress early on in life and may have a genetic component, researchers find.

Rina Shaikh-Lesko
Apr 7, 2014

Chromosomes in metaphase with telomeric DNA stained red.WIKIMEDIA, ASAKO NAKAMURA ET AL.Telomere length in children is associated with a stressful home environment, and genes that encode certain neurotransmitters may heighten the effect of that stress, according to a study published today (April 7) in PNAS. Researchers led by Daniel Notterman of Pennsylvania State University studied 40 African American boys who were part of a large ongoing study of family stability, finding that children living in the most stressful environments had telomeres that were on average 40 percent shorter than those of the children studied who were living in the most nurturing settings. The researchers also found that those differences were exacerbated by variants in genetic pathways related to dopamine and serotonin production.

“I’m not surprised we found such a relationship and I’m not surprised by the gene interaction,” said Notterman. “I’m surprised by the magnitude of the...

C. Mitchell et al., “Social disadvantage, genetic sensitivity and children’s telomere length,” PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.1404293111, 2014.