Shorter Telomeres Related to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Re-experiencing Symptoms in Sexually Assaulted Civilian Women

Telomeres are short tandem repeats of “TTAGGG” that protect the chromosome ends from deterioration or fusion of chromosomes. Their repeat length shortens with cell division acting as a biomarker of cellular aging. Traumatic stress events during adulthood or childhood have been associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and short leukocyte telomere length (LTL).


This study investigated whether LTL was associated with PTSD in a Brazilian sample of sexually assaulted civilian women at two time points: baseline and 1-year follow-up. At baseline, we assessed 64 women with PTSD following sexual assault (cases) and 60 women with no previous history of sexual trauma or mental disorders (healthy controls – HC). At follow-up visit, 13 persistent PTSD cases, 11 HCs, and 11 PTSD remitters patients were evaluated. PTSD diagnosis and severity were assessed using Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III/IV criteria) and Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 (CAPS-5), respectively. LTL was measured using multiplex real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR).


In the baseline analysis, we observed that LTL was associated with re-experiencing symptoms (B = −0.16; confidence interval (CI) 95% = −0.027—−0.005; Bonferroni-adjusted p-value = 0.02), but no association was observed between other PTSD symptoms and LTL. In the longitudinal analysis, telomere shortening was no longer observed in patients with PTSD and PTSD remitters. In conclusion, our findings indicate that shorter baseline LTL is associated with early stage of PTSD re-experiencing symptoms in recently sexually assaulted women.

Carolina Muniz Carvalho, Bruno Messina Coimbra, Gabriela Xavier, Amanda V G Bugiga, Tamiris Fonseca, Miranda Olff, Renato Polimanti, Andrea Feijó Mello, Vanessa Kiyomi Ota, Marcelo Feijó Mello, Sintia Iole Belangero | 2022
In: Frontiers in Psychiatry ; ISSN: 1664-0640
Online ahead of print DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.835783
Adults, Affected Populations, Alcohol Abuse, Anxiety Disorders, Brazilians, Effects, Epidemiology, Females, Followup Study, Genetics, Isolation, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (DSM-III), PTSD (DSM-IV), PTSD (en), Research, Sexual Harassment, Status
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