Association between childhood trauma and accelerated telomere erosion in adulthood: A meta-analytic study

J Psychiatr Res. 2017 Oct;93:64-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.06.002. Epub 2017 Jun 3.


Background: Childhood trauma has long-term sequelae on health status and contributes to numbers of somatic and mental disorders in later life. Findings from experimental studies in animals suggest that telomere erosion may be a mediator of this relationship. However, results from human studies are heterogeneous. To address these inconsistencies, we performed a meta-analysis regarding the association between childhood trauma and telomere length in adulthood.

Method: Articles were identified by systematically searching the Medline, EMBASE and Web of Science databases. Twenty four studies, which include twenty six sample sets and 30,919 participants, met the inclusion criteria for meta-analyses.

Results: This meta-analyses revealed that individuals experienced childhood trauma have accelerated telomere erosion in adulthood, with a small effect size (r = -0.05, 95% CI = -0.08-0.03, p < 0.001). Subgroup analyses by type of childhood trauma revealed a trend in difference between groups (Q = 5.24, p = 0.07). Analyses for individual trauma types revealed a significant association between childhood separation and telomere erosion (r = -0.09, p < 0.001), but not for physical abuse, sexual abuse and loss of a parent.

Conclusion: This meta-analysis demonstrated a significant association between childhood trauma and accelerated telomere erosion in adulthood, and further revealed that different trauma types have various impacts on telomere. Additional research on the mechanism that links the individual types of childhood trauma with telomere is needed in the future.

Keywords: Adulthood; Childhood trauma; Meta-analysis; Telomere.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse*
  • Humans
  • Telomere / physiology*
  • Telomere Shortening*