Leukocyte telomere length and depression, anxiety and stress and adjustment disorders in primary health care patients

BMC Psychiatry. 2017 Apr 24;17(1):148. doi: 10.1186/s12888-017-1308-0.


Background: The primary aim was to examine possible differences in telomere length between primary health care patients, with depression, anxiety or stress and adjustment disorders, and healthy controls. The second aim was to examine the association between telomere length and baseline characteristics in the patients. The third aim was to examine the potential effects of the 8-week treatments (mindfulness-based group therapy or treatment as usual, i.e. mostly cognitive-based therapy) on telomere length, and to examine whether there was a difference in the potential effect on telomere length between the two groups.

Methods: A total of 501 individuals including 181 patients (aged 20-64 years), with depression, anxiety and stress and adjustment disorders, and 320 healthy controls (aged 19-70 years) were recruited in the study. Patient data were collected from a randomized controlled trial comparing mindfulness-based group therapy with treatment as usual. We isolated genomic DNA from blood samples, collected at baseline and after the 8-week follow-up. Telomere length was measured by quantitative real-time (qRT)-PCR.

Results: Telomere length was significantly shorter in the patients (mean = 0.77 ± 0.12,), compared to the controls (mean = 0.81 ± 0.14) (p = 0.006). The difference in telomere length remained significant after controlling for age and sex. Old age, male sex and being overweight were associated with shorter telomere length. There was no significant difference in telomere length between baseline and at the 8-week follow-up in any of the treatment groups and no difference between the two groups.

Conclusion: Our findings confirm that telomere length, as compared with healthy controls, is shortened in patients with depression, anxiety and stress and adjustment disorders. In both groups (mindfulness-based group therapy or treatment as usual), the telomere length remained unchanged after the 8-week treatment/follow-up and there was no difference between the two groups.

Trial registration: (ClinicalTrials.gov ID: NCT01476371 ) Registered November 11, 2011.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Stress and adjustment disorders; Telomere length.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders / pathology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiplex Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • Telomere Shortening*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01476371
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01476371