Associations between early life stress, self-reported traumatic experiences across the lifespan and leukocyte telomere length in elderly adults

Biol Psychol. 2014 Mar;97:35-42. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.02.002. Epub 2014 Feb 11.


Early life stress (ELS) poses a risk for mental disorders and aging-related diseases. Accelerated biological aging, reflected in shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL), may underlie these risks. We examined whether objectively recorded ELS and retrospectively self-reported traumatic experiences across the lifespan are associated with LTL in later adulthood. Of 1486 participants, 215 had been exposed to ELS, namely to temporary separation from both parents in childhood. Participants self-reported emotionally or physically traumatic experiences across the lifespan at a mean age of 63.2 years. LTL was measured using a quantitative PCR method at a mean age of 61.5 years. Separation or self-reported traumatic experiences were not associated with LTL. However, separated participants who self-reported traumatic experiences had shorter LTL. Our results suggest that while ELS or self-reported traumatic experiences are not per se associated with LTL measured decades later, ELS may in combination with self-reported traumatic events be associated with accelerated biological aging.

Keywords: Aging-related diseases; Biomarker; Cellular aging; Early life stress; Telomere length; Traumatic experiences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anxiety, Separation / psychology
  • Biomarkers
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA / genetics
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • Telomere Shortening / physiology*
  • Warfare
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology*


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA