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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mitochondrial DNA copy number is reduced in male combat veterans with PTSD.



Mitochondrial abnormalities may be involved in PTSD, although few studies have examined this. Mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn) in blood cells is an emerging systemic index of mitochondrial biogenesis and function. The present study assessed mtDNAcn in male combat-exposed veterans with PTSD compared to those without PTSD as well as its correlation with clinical scales.


mtDNAcn was assessed with a TaqMan multiplex assay in granulocytes of 43 male combat veterans with (n=43) or without (n=44) PTSD. Twenty of the PTSD subjects had co-morbid major depressive disorder (MDD). The Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), the Early Trauma Inventory (ETI) and the Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II) were used for the clinical assessments. All analyses were corrected for age and BMI.


mtDNAcn was significantly lower in subjects with PTSD (p<0.05). Within the PTSD group, those with moderate PTSD symptom severity had relatively higher mtDNAcn than those with mild or severe symptoms (p<0.01). Within the PTSD group, mtDNAcn was positively correlated with PANAS positive subscale ratings (p<0.01) but was not significantly correlated with PANAS negative subscale, ETI or BDI-II ratings.


This study provides the first evidence of: (i) a significant decrease of mtDNAcn in combat PTSD, (ii) a possible "inverted-U" shaped relationship between PTSD symptom severity and mtDNAcn within PTSD subjects, and (iii) a direct correlation of mtDNAcn with positive affectivity within PTSD subjects. Altered mtDNAcn in PTSD may reflect impaired energy metabolism, which might represent a novel aspect of its pathophysiology.

Cover page of Determinants of telomere attrition over 1 year in healthy older women: stress and health behaviors matter.

Determinants of telomere attrition over 1 year in healthy older women: stress and health behaviors matter.


Telomere length, a reliable predictor of disease pathogenesis, can be affected by genetics, chronic stress and health behaviors. Cross-sectionally, highly stressed postmenopausal women have shorter telomeres, but only if they are inactive. However, no studies have prospectively examined telomere length change over a short period, and if rate of attrition is affected by naturalistic factors such as stress and engagement in healthy behaviors, including diet, exercise, and sleep. Here we followed healthy women over 1 year to test if major stressors that occurred over the year predicted telomere shortening, and whether engaging in healthy behaviors during this period mitigates this effect. In 239 postmenopausal, non-smoking, disease-free women, accumulation of major life stressors across a 1-year period predicted telomere attrition over the same period-for every major life stressor that occurred during the year, there was a significantly greater decline in telomere length over the year of 35 bp (P<0.05). Yet, these effects were moderated by health behaviors (interaction B=0.19, P=0.04). Women who maintained relatively higher levels of health behaviors (1 s.d. above the mean) appeared to be protected when exposed to stress. This finding has implications for understanding malleability of telomere length, as well as expectations for possible intervention effects. This is the first study to identify predictors of telomere length change over the short period of a year.

Cover page of PBMC telomerase activity, but not leukocyte telomere length, correlates with hippocampal volume in major depression

PBMC telomerase activity, but not leukocyte telomere length, correlates with hippocampal volume in major depression


Accelerated cell aging, indexed in peripheral leukocytes by telomere shortness and in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) by telomerase activity, has been reported in several studies of major depressive disorder (MDD). However, the relevance of these peripheral measures for brain indices that are presumably more directly related to MDD pathophysiology is unknown. In this study, we explored the relationship between PBMC telomerase activity and leukocyte telomere length and magnetic resonance imaging-estimated hippocampal volume in un-medicated depressed individuals and healthy controls. We predicted that, to the extent peripheral and central telomerase activity are directly related, PBMC telomerase activity would be positively correlated with hippocampal volume, perhaps due to hippocampal telomerase-associated neurogenesis, neuroprotection or neurotrophic facilitation, and that this effect would be clearer in individuals with increased PBMC telomerase activity, as previously reported in un-medicated MDD. We did not have specific hypotheses regarding the relationship between leukocyte telomere length and hippocampal volume, due to conflicting reports in the published literature. We found, in 25 un-medicated MDD subjects, that PBMC telomerase activity was significantly positively correlated with hippocampal volume; this relationship was not observed in 18 healthy controls. Leukocyte telomere length was not significantly related to hippocampal volume in either group (19 unmedicated MDD subjects and 17 healthy controls). Although the nature of the relationship between peripheral telomerase activity and telomere length and the hippocampus is unclear, these preliminary data are consistent with the possibility that PBMC telomerase activity indexes, and may provide a novel window into, hippocampal neuroprotection and/or neurogenesis in MDD.

Seasonal variation of peripheral blood leukocyte telomere length in Costa Rica: A population-based observational study.



Peripheral blood leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is increasingly being used as a biomarker of aging, but its natural variation in human populations is not well understood. Several other biomarkers show seasonal variation, as do several determinants of LTL. We examined whether there was monthly variation in LTL in Costa Rica, a country with strong seasonal differences in precipitation and infection.


We examined a longitudinal population-based cohort of 581 Costa Rican adults age 60 and above, from which blood samples were drawn between October 2006 and July 2008. LTL was assayed from these samples using the quantitative PCR method. Multivariate regression models were used to examine correlations between month of blood draw and LTL.


Telomere length from peripheral blood leukocytes varied by as much as 200 base pairs depending on month of blood draw, and this difference is not likely to be due to random variation. A moderate proportion of this association is statistically accounted for by month and region specific average rainfall. We found shorter telomere length associated with greater rainfall.


There are two possible explanations of our findings. First, there could be relatively rapid month-to-month changes in LTL. This conclusion would have implications for understanding the natural population dynamics of telomere length. Second, there could be seasonal differences in constituent cell populations. This conclusion would suggest that future studies of LTL use methods to account for the potential impact of constituent cell type.

Longer leukocyte telomere length in Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula: a population-based study.


Studies in humans suggest that leukocyte telomere length may act as a marker of biological aging. We investigated whether individuals in the Nicoya region of Costa Rica, known for exceptional longevity, had longer telomere length than those in other parts of the country. After controlling for age, age squared, rurality, rainy season and gender, the mean leukocyte telomere length in Nicoya was substantially longer (81 base pairs, p<0.05) than in other areas of Costa Rica, providing evidence of a biological pathway to which this notable longevity may be related. This relationship remains unchanged (79 base pairs, p<0.05) after statistically controlling for nineteen potential biological, dietary and social and demographic mediators. Thus the difference in the mean leukocyte telomere length that characterizes this unique region does not appear to be explainable by traditional behavioral and biological risk factors. More detailed examination of mean leukocyte telomere length by age shows that the regional telomere length difference declines at older ages.

Cover page of Changes in stress, eating, and metabolic factors are related to changes in telomerase activity in a randomized mindfulness intervention pilot study.

Changes in stress, eating, and metabolic factors are related to changes in telomerase activity in a randomized mindfulness intervention pilot study.



Psychological distress and metabolic dysregulation are associated with markers of accelerated cellular aging, including reduced telomerase activity and shortened telomere length. We examined whether participation in a mindfulness-based intervention, and, secondarily, improvements in psychological distress, eating behavior, and metabolic factors are associated with increases in telomerase activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs).


We enrolled 47 overweight/obese women in a randomized waitlist-controlled pilot trial (n=47) of a mindfulness-based intervention for stress eating and examined changes in telomerase activity from pre- to post-intervention. In secondary analyses, changes in telomerase activity across the sample were examined in relation to pre- to post-intervention changes in psychological distress, eating behavior, and metabolic factors (weight, serum cortisol, fasting glucose and insulin, and insulin resistance).


Both groups increased in mean telomerase activity over 4 months in intent-to-treat and treatment efficacy analyses (p<0.001). Nonsignificant trends showed that greater attendance was associated with increases in telomerase, and telomerase increases were 18% higher among 'as treated' participants compared to controls. Across groups, changes in chronic stress, anxiety, dietary restraint, dietary fat intake, cortisol, and glucose were negatively correlated with changes in telomerase activity. In exploratory analyses, decreases in dietary fat intake partially mediated the association between dietary restraint and telomerase activity with marginal significance.


While there was no clear effect of the intervention on telomerase activity, there was a striking pattern of correlations between improvements in psychological distress, eating behavior, and metabolic health and increases in telomerase activity. These findings suggest that telomerase activity may be in part regulated by levels of both psychological and metabolic stress.

Cover page of Stress appraisals and cellular aging: a key role for anticipatory threat in the relationship between psychological stress and telomere length.

Stress appraisals and cellular aging: a key role for anticipatory threat in the relationship between psychological stress and telomere length.


Chronic psychological stress is a risk factor for multiple diseases of aging. Accelerated cellular aging as indexed by short telomere length has emerged as a potential common biological mechanism linking various forms of psychological stress and diseases of aging. Stress appraisals determine the degree and type of biological stress responses and altered stress appraisals may be a common psychological mechanism linking psychological stress and diseases of aging. However, no previous studies have examined the relationship between stress appraisals and telomere length. We exposed chronically stressed female caregivers and non-caregiving controls (N=50; M age=62.14±6.10) to a standardized acute laboratory stressor and measured their anticipatory and retrospective threat and challenge appraisals of the stressor. We hypothesized that threat and challenge appraisals would be associated with shorter and longer telomere length respectively, and that chronic caregiving stress would influence telomere length through altered stress appraisals. Higher anticipatory threat appraisals were associated with shorter age-adjusted telomere length (β=-.32, p=.03), but challenge appraisals and retrospective threat appraisals showed no independent association with telomere length. Caregivers reported significantly higher anticipatory (β=-.36, p=.006) and retrospective (β=-.29, p=.03) threat appraisals than controls, but similar challenge appraisals. Although there was no significant main effect of caregiver status on telomere length, caregiving had a significant indirect effect on telomere length through anticipatory threat appraisals. Exaggerated anticipatory threat appraisals may be a common and modifiable psychological mechanism of psychological stress effects on cellular aging.

Cover page of Does cellular aging relate to patterns of allostasis? An examination of basal and stress reactive HPA axis activity and telomere length.

Does cellular aging relate to patterns of allostasis? An examination of basal and stress reactive HPA axis activity and telomere length.


Long-term exposure to stress and its physiological mediators, in particular cortisol, may lead to impaired telomere maintenance. In this study, we examine if greater cortisol responses to an acute stressor and/or dysregulated patterns of daily cortisol secretion are associated with shorter telomere length. Twenty-three postmenopausal women comprising caregivers for dementia partners (n=14) and age- and BMI-matched non-caregivers provided home sampling of cortisol-saliva samples at waking, 30 min after waking, and bedtime, and a 12-hour overnight urine collection. They were also exposed to an acute laboratory stressor throughout which they provided saliva samples. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated from a fasting blood sample and assayed for telomere length. As hypothesized, greater cortisol responses to the acute stressor were associated with shorter telomeres, as were higher overnight urinary free cortisol levels and flatter daytime cortisol slopes. While robust physiological responses to acute stress serve important functions, the long-term consequences of frequent high stress reactivity may include accelerated telomere shortening.

Cover page of Impartial comparative analysis of measurement of leukocyte telomere length/DNA content by Southern blots and qPCR.

Impartial comparative analysis of measurement of leukocyte telomere length/DNA content by Southern blots and qPCR.


Telomere length/DNA content has been measured in epidemiological/clinical settings with the goal of testing a host of hypotheses related to the biology of human aging, but often the conclusions of these studies have been inconsistent. These inconsistencies may stem from various reasons, including the use of different telomere length measurement techniques. Here, we report the first impartial evaluation of measurements of leukocyte telomere length by Southern blot of the terminal restriction fragments and quantitative PCR (qPCR) of telomere DNA content, expressed as the ratio of telomeric product (T)/single copy gene (S) product. Blind measurements on the same samples from 50 donors were performed in two independent laboratories on two different occasions. Both the qPCR and Southern blots displayed highly reproducible results as shown by r values > 0.9 for the correlations between results obtained by either method on two occasions. The inter-assay CV measurement for the qPCR was 6.45%, while that of the Southern blots was 1.74%. The relation between the results generated by Southern blots versus those generated by qPCR deviated from linearity. We discuss the ramifications of these findings with regard to measurements of telomere length/DNA content in epidemiological/clinical circumstances.