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Keywords:

  • telomere length;
  • qPCR;
  • psychological stress;
  • rape;
  • major depressive disorder;
  • posttraumatic stress disorder

Abstract

Background: Women are at an increased risk of depression and other mental health problems following rape. Various etiological factors for depression, including predisposing genetic factors, have been identified. Telomeres are repetitive nucleoprotein structures located at chromosomal ends that protect them from premature degradation. Telomeres reduce in length with each cell division, resulting in cellular senescence and apoptosis. Methods: Relative quantification of telomeric repeats using qPCR was performed to investigate whether shorter relative leukocyte telomere length (LTL) in a cohort of 64 rape victims was associated with resilience, the development of rape trauma-related major depressive disorder (MDD) or the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after 3 months. Results: Out of the 64 participants, 23 participants were diagnosed with MDD at baseline and 31 after 3 months. Nine participants were diagnosed with PTSD (MDD and PTSD specifically related to the trauma). No significant associations were observed between relative LTL and resilience or the development of MDD at either baseline or after 3 months in this cohort. However, a marginally significant association was evident between relative LTL and PTSD status. Conclusions: The significant association between relative LTL and PTSD suggests that shorter relative LTL might have acted as a predisposing factor in the development of PTSD after a severely traumatic event. The results of this study indicate that telomere shortening may be an important marker of PTSD risk, with implications for early intervention and timely treatment, and as such warrant replication in a larger cohort. Depression and Anxiety, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.