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Childhood Maltreatment and Telomere Length

Assessing the contributions of childhood maltreatment subtypes and depression case-control status on telomere length reveals a specific role of physical neglect  (2017)

J. Vincent, I. Hovatta, S. Frissa, L. Goodwin, M. Hotopf, S. Hatch, G. Breen and T. Powell

 

Background

Studies have provided evidence that both childhood maltreatment and depressive disorders are associated with shortened telomere lengths. However, as childhood maltreatment is a risk factor for depression, it remains unclear whether this may be driving shortened telomere lengths observed amongst depressed patients. Furthermore, it's unclear if the effects of maltreatment on telomere length shortening are more pervasive amongst depressed patients relative to controls, and consequently whether biological ageing may contribute to depression's pathophysiology. The current study assesses the effects of childhood maltreatment, depression case/control status, and the interactive effect of both childhood maltreatment and depression case/control status on relative telomere length (RTL).

How was the study conducted?

DNA samples from 80 depressed subjects and 100 control subjects were utilized from a U.K. sample (ages 20–84), with childhood trauma questionnaire data available for all participants. RTL was quantified using quantitative polymerase chain reactions. Univariate linear regression analyses were used to assess the effects of depression status, childhood maltreatment and depression by childhood maltreatment interactions on RTL. The false discovery rate (q<0.05) was used for multiple testing correction.

What did we find?

Analysis of depression case/control status showed no significant main effect on RTL. Four subtypes of childhood maltreatment also demonstrated no significant main effect on RTL, however a history of physical neglect did significantly predict shorter RTL in adulthood (F(1, 174)=7.559, p=0.007, q=0.042, Variance Explained=4.2%), which was independent of case/control status. RTL was further predicted by severity of physical neglect, with the greatest differences observed in older maltreated individuals (>50 years old). There were no significant depression case/control status by childhood maltreatment interactions.

Conclusions

Shortened RTL was specifically associated with childhood physical neglect, but not the other subtypes of maltreatment or depression case/control status. Our results suggest that the telomere-eroding effects of physical neglect may represent a biological mechanism important in increasing risk for ageing-related disorders. As physical neglect is more frequent amongst depressed cases generally, it may also represent a confounding factor driving previous associations between shorter RTL and depression case status.

 

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