Prospective association of depression and phobic anxiety with changes in telomere lengths over 11 years

Depress Anxiety. 2018 May;35(5):431-439. doi: 10.1002/da.22732. Epub 2018 Feb 27.


Background: Although depression and anxiety have been associated with shorter telomeres in cross-sectional studies, the data regarding the prospective relations of depression and anxiety to accelerated telomere length shortening are limited and findings are mixed. We prospectively examined relations of baseline depression and phobic anxiety to subsequent 11-year change in relative leukocyte telomere lengths (LTLs).

Methods: We selected 1,250 women from a subcohort of the Nurses' Health Study who provided blood specimens at both blood collections (1989-1990 and 2000-2001). Depression was defined by self-reported regular antidepressant use or presence of severe depressive symptoms; anxiety symptoms were assessed using the Crown-Crisp Experiential Index. Using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction assay, LTLs were measured as the copy number ratio of telomere repeat to a single control gene. Changes in LTLs were defined in three ways: absolute change, symmetrized percent change, and decile shift.

Results: Overall, there were no statistically significant associations of depression or phobic anxiety to subsequent 11-year LTL shortening, despite a point estimates in the direction of greater telomere shortening among participants with versus without depression, across all three metrics of telomere change. The strongest predictor of LTL change was baseline telomere length, and regression-to-the-mean was observed.

Conclusion: Baseline depression and phobic anxiety were not significantly associated with 11-year attrition in LTLs among 1,250 mid-life and older women. However, a suggestion of depression and greater subsequent LTL attrition, while not statistically significant, may warrant further inquiry, particularly in prospective studies with larger sample sizes and broader windows of the lifespan.

Keywords: depression; phobic anxiety; prospective; telomere change; telomere length; women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / blood
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / blood
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes*
  • Middle Aged
  • Phobic Disorders / blood
  • Phobic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Telomere Shortening / physiology*
  • United States / epidemiology