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The association between depression and leukocyte telomere length: a meta-analysis.

Authors: Nicola S NS. Schutte, John M JM. Malouff
Published: 02/24/2015, Depression and anxiety


Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes, and shorter leukocyte telomeres are associated with poor health. Depression may be associated with the shortening of leukocyte telomeres. The present study set out to consolidate the varying effect sizes found so far in studies of depression and telomere length and to identify moderators of the relationship between depression and telomere length.


A meta-analytic investigation of the relationship between depression and leukocyte telomere length used information from 21,040 participants.


A significant effect size, r = -.12, P < .001, indicated that depression was associated with shorter telomere length. Several variables significantly moderated effect size. Concurrent associations (k = 25) between depression and telomere length were significantly stronger than longitudinal associations (k = 5). Studies that used the Southern blot (k = 3) and fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH; k = 2) assays to measure telomere length showed larger effect sizes than studies that used quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR; k = 25). Finally, study reports that indicated that the telomere assays were conducted blind to depression level of participants (k = 11) had significantly lower effect sizes than those of other studies (k = 19).


The significant relationship between depression and shorter telomere length is consistent with a theoretical model positing that distress, such as experienced in depression, results in physiological changes leading to shortened telomeres.

© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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