Hostility and cellular aging in men from the Whitehall II cohort

Biol Psychiatry. 2012 May 1;71(9):767-73. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.08.020. Epub 2011 Oct 5.


Background: Hostility is associated with a significantly increased risk of age-related disease and mortality, yet the pathophysiological mechanisms involved remain unclear. Here we investigated the hypothesis that hostility might impact health by promoting cellular aging.

Methods: We tested the relationship between cynical hostility and two known markers of cellular aging, leukocyte telomere length (TL) and leukocyte telomerase activity (TA), in 434 men and women from the Whitehall II cohort.

Results: High-hostile men had significantly shorter leukocyte TL than their low-hostile counterparts. They also had elevated leukocyte TA, with a significantly increased likelihood of having both short TL and high TA, compared with low-hostile individuals.

Conclusions: Because telomerase is known to counteract telomere shortening by synthesizing telomeric DNA repeats, particularly in the context of shortened telomeres, heightened TA might represent a compensatory response in high-hostile individuals. The relationship between hostility and disease is stronger in men than in women, and men generally have a shorter life expectancy than women. Our findings suggest that telomere attrition might represent a novel mechanism mediating the detrimental effects of hostility on men's health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hostility*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere Homeostasis / physiology
  • Telomere Shortening / physiology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Telomerase