Chronic stress exposure and daily stress appraisals relate to biological aging marker p16 INK4a

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Apr;102:139-148. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.12.006. Epub 2018 Dec 7.


Previous research has linked exposure to adverse social conditions with DNA damage and accelerated telomere shortening, raising the possibility that chronic stress may impact biological aging pathways, ultimately increasing risk for age-related diseases. Less clear, however, is whether these stress-related effects extend to additional hallmarks of biological aging, including cellular senescence, a stable state of cell cycle arrest. The present study aimed to investigate associations between psychosocial stress and two markers of cellular aging-leukocyte telomere length (LTL) and cellular senescence signal p16INK4a. Seventy-three adults (Mage = 43.0, SD = 7.2; 55% female) with children between 8-13 years of age completed interview-based and questionnaire measures of their exposures to and experiences of stress, as well as daily reports of stress appraisals over an 8-week diary period. Blood samples were used to assess markers of cellular aging: LTL and gene expression of senescent cell signal p16INK4a (CDKN2A). Random effects models covarying for age, sex, ethnicity/race, and BMI revealed that participants with greater chronic stress exposure over the previous 6 months (b = 0.011, p = .04), perceived stress (b = 0.020, p < .001), and accumulated daily stress appraisals over the 8-week period (b = 0.013, p = .02) showed increased p16INK4a. No significant associations with LTL were found. These findings extend previous work on the impact of stress on biological aging by linking chronic stress exposure and daily stressful experiences to an accumulation of senescent cells. Findings also support the hypothesis that chronic stress is associated with accelerated aging by inducing cellular senescence, a common correlate of age-related diseases.

Keywords: Biological aging; Cellular senescence; Daily diary; Gene expression; Stress; Telomere length.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • Female
  • Genes, p16 / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Telomere / metabolism
  • Telomere Shortening / genetics


  • Biomarkers
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16