Anxiety disorders and accelerated cellular ageing

Br J Psychiatry. 2015 May;206(5):371-8. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.151027. Epub 2015 Feb 5.


Background: Anxiety disorders increase the risk of onset of several ageing-related somatic conditions, which might be the consequence of accelerated cellular ageing.

Aims: To examine the association between anxiety status and leukocyte telomere length (LTL) as an indicator of cellular ageing.

Method: Data are from individuals with current (n = 1283) and remitted (n = 459) anxiety disorder, and controls (n = 582) with no psychiatric disorder from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety. We determined DSM-IV anxiety diagnoses and clinical characteristics by structured psychiatric interviews and self-report questionnaires; LTL was assessed using quantitative polymerase chain reaction and converted into base pairs (bp).

Results: Patients in the current anxiety group (bp = 5431) had significantly shorter LTL compared with the control group (bp = 5506, P = 0.01) and the remitted anxiety group (bp = 5499, P = 0.03) in analyses adjusted for sociodemographics, health and lifestyle. The remitted anxiety group did not differ from the control group (P = 0.84), however, time since remission was positively related with LTL. Furthermore, anxiety severity scores were associated with LTL in the whole sample, in line with a dose-response association.

Conclusions: Patients with current - but not remitted - anxiety disorder had shorter telomere length, suggesting a process of accelerated cellular ageing, which in part may be reversible after remission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cellular Senescence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • Young Adult