Psychological Profiles in the Prediction of Leukocyte Telomere Length in Healthy Individuals

PLoS One. 2016 Oct 27;11(10):e0165482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165482. eCollection 2016.


Background: Shorter telomere length (TL) may signal premature cellular aging and increased risk for disease. While depression and psychosocial stress have been associated with shorter telomeres, other psychological risk factors for cardiovascular disease have received less attention.

Purpose: To evaluate the association between TL and psychological risk factors (symptoms of anxiety and depression, hostility and defensiveness traits) for heart disease, and to examine whether chronological age and sex moderate the associations observed.

Methods: 132 healthy men and women (Mage = 45.34 years) completed the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, the Beck Depression Inventory II, The Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale. Relative TL was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of total genomic DNA samples. A series of hierarchical linear regressions were performed controlling for pertinent covariates.

Results: Shorter TL was observed among individuals high in defensiveness (β = -.221) and depressive symptoms (β = -.213), as well as in those with less hostility (β =.256) and anxiety (β =.220)(all Ps<.05). Psychological variables explained 19% of the variance over and above that explained by covariates (age, sex, exercise, alcohol consumption, systemic inflammation, and 24-hr mean arterial pressure). Age moderated the relation between TL and defensiveness (β =.179, p =.03). Sex did not influence any of the relations.

Conclusions: Telomere length is associated with psychological burden though the direction of effect differs depending on the psychological variables under study. Further research is needed to determine the reasons for and implications of these seemingly contradictory findings.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / genetics
  • Depression / genetics
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Telomere Shortening

Grant support

This study was supported by grants awarded to Dr. D'Antono by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR; MOP #79456 and #111017) and the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF). Louisia Starnino is supported by the Fonds de recherche du Québec-Santé (FRQS) (#31767). Dr. Tardif holds the Canada Research Chair (tier 1) in translational and personalized medicine and the Université de Montréal Pfizer endowed research chair in atherosclerosis. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.