BackgroundSchizophrenia is linked with early medical comorbidity and mortality. These observations indicate possible "accelerated biological aging" in schizophrenia, although prior findings are mixed, and few such studies have examined the role of gender. One putative marker of biological aging is leukocyte telomere length (LTL), which typically shortens with age.
MethodsWe assessed LTL in phenotypically well characterized 134 individuals with schizophrenia (60 women and 74 men) and 123 healthy comparison subjects (HCs) (66 women and 57 men), aged 26 to 65 years.
ResultsOverall, LTL was inversely associated with age (t(249) = -6.2, p < 0.001), and a gender effect on the rate of LTL decrease with age was found (t(249) = 2.20, p = 0.029), with men declining more rapidly than women. No significant overall effect of diagnosis on the rate of decline was detected. However, at the average sample age (48 years), there was a significant gender effect in both schizophrenia and HC groups (t(249) = 2.48, p = 0.014), with women having longer LTL than men, and a significant gender X diagnosis effect (t(249) = 2.43, p = 0.016) - at the average sample age, women with schizophrenia had shorter LTL than HC women.
DiscussionGender, not the diagnosis of schizophrenia, was the major factor involved with LTL shortening across the age range studied. We discuss the constraints of a cross-sectional design and other methodological issues, and indicate future directions. Understanding the impact of schizophrenia on biological aging will require separate evaluations in men and women.