Accelerated cell aging, indexed in peripheral leukocytes by telomere shortness and in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) by telomerase activity, has been reported in several studies of major depressive disorder (MDD). However, the relevance of these peripheral measures for brain indices that are presumably more directly related to MDD pathophysiology is unknown. In this study, we explored the relationship between PBMC telomerase activity and leukocyte telomere length and magnetic resonance imaging-estimated hippocampal volume in un-medicated depressed individuals and healthy controls. We predicted that, to the extent peripheral and central telomerase activity are directly related, PBMC telomerase activity would be positively correlated with hippocampal volume, perhaps due to hippocampal telomerase-associated neurogenesis, neuroprotection or neurotrophic facilitation, and that this effect would be clearer in individuals with increased PBMC telomerase activity, as previously reported in un-medicated MDD. We did not have specific hypotheses regarding the relationship between leukocyte telomere length and hippocampal volume, due to conflicting reports in the published literature. We found, in 25 un-medicated MDD subjects, that PBMC telomerase activity was significantly positively correlated with hippocampal volume; this relationship was not observed in 18 healthy controls. Leukocyte telomere length was not significantly related to hippocampal volume in either group (19 unmedicated MDD subjects and 17 healthy controls). Although the nature of the relationship between peripheral telomerase activity and telomere length and the hippocampus is unclear, these preliminary data are consistent with the possibility that PBMC telomerase activity indexes, and may provide a novel window into, hippocampal neuroprotection and/or neurogenesis in MDD.
Keywords: Brain; Depression; Hippocampus; Leukocytes; Telomerase; Telomeres.
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