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Stress and telomere shortening among central Indian conservation refugees.

Authors: Sammy S. Zahran, Jeffrey G JG. Snodgrass, David G DG. Maranon, Chakrapani C. Upadhyay, Douglas A DA. Granger, Susan M SM. Bailey
Published: 02/17/2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Research links psychosocial stress to premature telomere shortening and accelerated human aging; however, this association has only been demonstrated in so-called "WEIRD" societies (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic), where stress is typically lower and life expectancies longer. By contrast, we examine stress and telomere shortening in a non-Western setting among a highly stressed population with overall lower life expectancies: poor indigenous people--the Sahariya--who were displaced (between 1998 and 2002) from their ancestral homes in a central Indian wildlife sanctuary. In this setting, we examined adult populations in two representative villages, one relocated to accommodate the introduction of Asiatic lions into the sanctuary (n = 24 individuals), and the other newly isolated in the sanctuary buffer zone after their previous neighbors were moved (n = 22). Our research strategy combined physical stress measures via the salivary analytes cortisol and α-amylase with self-assessments of psychosomatic stress, ethnographic observations, and telomere length assessment [telomere-fluorescence in situ hybridization (TEL-FISH) coupled with 3D imaging of buccal cell nuclei], providing high-resolution data amenable to multilevel statistical analysis. Consistent with expectations, we found significant associations between each of our stress measures--the two salivary analytes and the psychosomatic symptom survey--and telomere length, after adjusting for relevant behavioral, health, and demographic traits. As the first study (to our knowledge) to link stress to telomere length in a non-WEIRD population, our research strengthens the case for stress-induced telomere shortening as a pancultural biomarker of compromised health and aging.

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