Leukocyte telomere length and late-life depression

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2015 Apr;23(4):423-432. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2014.06.003. Epub 2014 Jun 19.


Objective: Depressive disorders have been associated with increased risk for aging-related diseases, possibly as a consequence of accelerated cellular aging. Cellular aging, indexed by telomere length (TL) shortening, has been linked to depression in adults younger than 60 years; however, it remains unclear whether this is the case in late-life depression (age >60 years). The objective of this study was to assess differences in TL between persons with current late-life depression and never-depressed comparisons and to examine the association between characteristics of late-life depression and TL.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study using the Netherlands Study of Depression in Older Persons, 355 persons with current late-life depression and 128 never-depressed comparisons, aged 60-93 years (mean age [SD]: 70.5 [7.4] years, 65% women), were recruited through primary care and mental healthcare. Late-life depression was established using a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition-based structured psychiatric interview. Leukocyte TL, expressed in base pairs (bp), was determined in fasting blood samples by performing quantitative polymerase chain reaction.

Results: Mean TL did not differ between depressed persons (bp [SD]: 5,035 [431]) and never-depressed (bp [SD]: 5,057 [729]) comparisons. Further, TL was not associated with severity, duration, and age at onset of depression; comorbid anxiety disorders; anxiety symptoms; apathy severity; antidepressant use; benzodiazepine use; cognitive functioning; and childhood trauma.

Conclusion: Late-life depression was not associated with increased cellular aging. This absent association, which contradicts observations in younger adults, may be due to the potential larger heterogenic nature of late-life depression and lifetime cumulative exposure to other TL-damaging factors, possibly overruling effects of late-life depression.

Keywords: Late-life depression; cellular aging; telomere length; telomere shortening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / genetics
  • Depressive Disorder / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Late Onset Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Late Onset Disorders / genetics
  • Late Onset Disorders / pathology
  • Leukocytes / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Telomere Shortening / genetics*