Childhood Adversity May Promote Cellular Aging

Philadelphia, PA, 16 March 2010 - Children who suffer physical or emotional abuse could be faced with accelerated cellular aging as adults, according to new research published by Elsevier in Biological Psychiatry.

It’s an easy fact to forget - the aging process begins at birth. Despite this, cellular aging remains somewhat of a mystery, although there is growing evidence that over time, the DNA within cells begins to show signs of aging. One of these signs is the shortening of telomeres, which are DNA “caps” at the end of chromosomes that promote cellular stability.

Telomere length is a measure of biological aging because telomeres shorten progressively with each cell division. Shorter telomere lengths have been linked to a variety of aging-related medical conditions including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Stress and trauma, such as childhood abuse and neglect, are risk factors for several medical and psychiatric illnesses, and stress is known to promote cellular aging. So, Audrey Tyrka and her colleagues from Butler Hospital and Brown University examined the DNA of healthy adults who had a history of childhood maltreatment and found they had shorter telomeres than those who did not experience child maltreatment.

Dr. Tyrka explained that the findings “suggest the possibility that early developmental experiences may have profound effects on biology that can influence cellular mechanisms at a very basic level and even lead to accelerated aging.”

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, agreed: “This study illustrates a new way that early childhood adversity may leave its mark on traumatized individuals. Our limited insight into the functional significance of telomere shortening makes it difficult to know whether there are some adaptive consequences of these changes. Yet the association of telomere shortening and cellular aging suggests that there might be long-term health implications of exposure to early childhood adversity.”

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Notes to Editors:
The article is “Childhood Maltreatment and Telomere Shortening: Preliminary Support for an Effect of Early Stress on Cellular Aging” by Audrey R. Tyrka, Lawrence H. Price, Hung-Teh Kao, Barbara Porton, Sarah A. Marsella, and Linda L. Carpenter. The authors are affiliated with Butler Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island. Tyrka, Price, Kao, Porton, and Carpenter are also affiliated with Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 67, Issue 6 (March 15, 2010), published by Elsevier.

The authors’ disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D. is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.  Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Maureen Hunter at m.hunter@elsevier.com to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.

About Biological Psychiatry
This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.

Biological Psychiatry is ranked 4th out of the 101 Psychiatry titles and 14th out of 219 Neurosciences titles on the 2008 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Scientific.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence, and ClinicalKey — and publishes nearly 2,200 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and over 25,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works.

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Media Contact:
Maureen Hunter
Elsevier
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