Abuse victimization in childhood is associated with a variety of age-related cardiometabolic diseases, but the mechanisms remain unknown. Telomeres, which form the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, have been proposed as measures of biological age, and a growing body of research suggests that telomere attrition may help to explain relationships between stress and cardiometabolic degradation. We examined the association between childhood abuse victimization and leukocyte telomere length among 1,135 participants in the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII).
The NHSII ascertained physical and sexual child abuse histories in 2001. Telomere length was measured in genomic DNA extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes collected between 1996 and 1999. The ratio of telomere repeat copy number to a single gene copy number (T/S) was determined by a modified version of the quantitative real-time PCR telomere assay. Telomere length was log-transformed and corrected for assay variation across batch. We regressed telomere length on childhood abuse exposure variables and covariates using linear regression.
We observed a reduction in telomere length associated with moderate physical abuse versus no physical abuse, but there was no evidence of a dose-response relationship for increased severity of physical abuse. No associations were noted for sexual abuse.
We found no evidence of an association between severity of childhood physical or sexual abuse and leukocyte telomere length in the NHSII.