Major psychiatric disorders are linked to early mortality and patients afflicted with these ailments demonstrate an increased risk of developing physical diseases that are characteristically seen in the elderly. Psychiatric conditions like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia may be associated with accelerated cellular aging, indicated by shortened leukocyte telomere length (LTL), which could underlie this connection. Telomere shortening occurs with repeated cell division and is reflective of a cell's mitotic history. It is also influenced by cumulative exposure to inflammation and oxidative stress as well as the availability of telomerase, the telomere-lengthening enzyme. Precariously short telomeres can cause cells to undergo senescence, apoptosis, or genomic instability; shorter LTL correlates with compromised general health and foretells mortality. Important data specify that LTL may be reduced in principal psychiatric illnesses, possibly in proportion to exposure to the ailment. Telomerase, as measured in peripheral blood monocytes, has been less well characterized in psychiatric illnesses, but a role in mood disorder has been suggested by preclinical and clinical studies. In this manuscript, the most recent studies on LTL and telomerase activity in mood disorders are comprehensively reviewed, potential mediators are discussed, and future directions are suggested. An enhanced comprehension of cellular aging in psychiatric illnesses could lead to their re-conceptualizing as systemic ailments with manifestations both inside and outside the brain. At the same time, this paradigm shift could identify new treatment targets, helpful in bringing about lasting cures to innumerable sufferers across the globe.
Keywords: Aging; Leukocyte telomere length; Mood disorders; Mortality; Telomerase activity.