Telomeres: harsh childhood 'makes chromosomes age early'

One implication of study could be that chronic stress in early life could lead to shorter-than-expected lifespan for some boys

Science Editor

Children as young as nine who are brought up in severely deprived backgrounds are more likely to show ageing in their chromosomes compared to more privileged children according to a study suggesting that environmental stress in early life can have long-term impacts on a person's genetic makeup.

A study of 40 African-American boys shows that those who came from socially disadvantaged homes had telomeres - the structural "tips" at the end of the chromosomes - that were on average about 20 per cent shorter than boys from more stable, nurturing backgrounds.

But it also found that the effect depended on the kind of gene variants for neurotransmitters in the brain that the boys had inherited. Some gene variants were linked with significantly shorter telomeres in disadvantaged children but the same gene variants were linked with longer telomeres when the boys came from a more privileged background.

Telomeres generally get shorter with age so one of the implications of the study could be that chronic stress in early life could increase the ageing process and so lead to a shorter-than-expected lifespan for boys with a particular genetic makeup. However, the researchers emphasised that the study only shows an association and has not proved that a deprived childhood directly causes the telomeres to become shorter.

Daniel Notterman of Pennsylvania State University, who led the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said that the differences in telomere length between the boys from different social background were exacerbated by the gene variants involved in the production of two chemical "messengers" in the brain, dopamine and serotonin.

"I'm not surprised we found such a relationship and I'm not surprised by the gene interaction. I'm surprised by the magnitude of the association," Dr Notterman said.

The shortening of the telomeres by the age of nine may not be irreversible and the findings support the idea of early intervention to stop any long-lasting damage to a child's health and wellbeing in later life, Dr Notterman said.

"The demonstration that telomere length is shortened by age nine supports the idea of early intervention," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there