Prospective association between major depressive disorder and leukocyte telomere length over two years

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018 Apr;90:157-164. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.02.015. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


Background: Reduced leukocyte telomere length (LTL) has been found to be associated with multiple common age-related diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A link has also been suggested between shortened LTL and major depressive disorder (MDD), suggesting that MDD may be a disease of accelerated aging. This prospective, longitudinal study examined the association between depression diagnosis at baseline and change in LTL over two years in a well-characterized sample of N = 117 adults with or without MDD at baseline, using rigorous entry criteria.

Methods: Participants aged 18-70 were assessed with validated instruments by trained, doctoral-level clinician raters at baseline and at two-year follow-up, and blood samples were obtained at both visits. LTL was assayed under identical methods using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). The effect of an MDD diagnosis at baseline on change in LTL over two years was examined via hierarchical mixed models, which included potential confounders.

Results: Individuals with MDD at baseline had greater LTL shortening over two years than individuals without MDD (p = 0.03), even after controlling for differences in age, sex, and body mass index (BMI). In the sub-sample of individuals with MDD diagnoses at baseline, no significant associations between LTL change and symptom severity or duration were found.

Conclusion: A baseline diagnosis of MDD prospectively predicted LTL shortening over two years. Our results provide further support for MDD as a disease associated with accelerated aging in a well-characterized sample using validated, clinician-rated measures.

Keywords: Aging; Anxiety; Depression; Prospective; Stress; Telomeres.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers
  • Depression / genetics
  • Depression / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / genetics*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / cytology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Telomere / physiology*
  • Telomere Shortening / genetics
  • Telomere Shortening / physiology*


  • Biomarkers