Background: Several psychiatric disorders may be characterized by peripheral telomere shortening. However, it is unclear whether telomere shortening is associated with these psychiatric disorders per se or, rather, with underlying dimensional parameters that are often, but not necessarily, associated with them. We explored the association between dimensional psychopathological measures and telomere length (TL) in granulocytes among veterans independent of psychiatric diagnosis.
Methods: Seventy-six combat-exposed male veterans (41 psychiatrically healthy, 18 with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and 17 with concomitant PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder [MDD]) had TL assayed. Assessments included Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), Early Trauma Inventory (ETI), Symptom Checklist-90-R Global Severity Index (SCL-90-GSI), Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). Correlations were corrected for age, BMI, antidepressants and ethnicity.
Results: Across subjects, TL was negatively correlated with early trauma (p<0.001), global psychopathological severity (p=0.044) and perceived stress (p=0.019), positively correlated with positive affect (p=0.026), not significantly correlated with symptom severity of PTSD, depression or negative affect. Across these dimensions, early trauma and positive affect were associated with TL after excluding subjects with somatic illnesses.
Limitations: The study was cross-sectional with a moderate sample size and only male combat-exposed subjects.
Conclusions: These preliminary findings suggest that early trauma, severity of perceived stress and general psychopathological symptoms are more closely associated with shorter TL than is the severity of core diagnostic symptoms of PTSD or MDD, whereas positive affect is associated with longer TL. Larger-scale studies should assess TL associated with specific psychiatric dimensions, apart from only categorical psychiatric diagnoses, to develop more specific biologically-relevant endophenotypes.
Keywords: Cellular ageing; Early traumatic experiences; Major depressive disorder; Positive affect; Posttraumatic stress disorder; Telomere length; War veterans.
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