Exposure to Violence Wears on Children's DNA

Shortened telomere length seen in children exposed to abuse and domestic violence

WEDNESDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- Children who are exposed to violence have significantly more telomere erosion than their unexposed peers, according to a study published online April 24 in Molecular Psychiatry.

To investigate whether exposure to childhood violence was associated with telomere erosion from age 5 to 10 years, Idan Shalev, Ph.D., from Duke University in Durham, N.C., and colleagues measured telomere length in 236 children, recruited from the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study. Telomere length was measured simultaneously from DNA samples taken at baseline (age 5) and follow-up (age 10), using a quantitative polymerase chain reaction technique for T/S ratio. Violence was measured by exposure to maternal domestic violence, repeat bullying victimization, or physical maltreatment by an adult.

The researchers found that 42 percent of the children had experienced one or more violence exposures. Those children who experienced two or more kinds of violence exposure had significantly more telomere erosion from baseline to follow-up compared with their peers. These findings were sustained even after adjusting for sex, socioeconomic status, and body mass index.

"This finding provides support for a mechanism linking cumulative childhood stress to telomere maintenance, observed already at a young age, with potential impact for life-long health," the authors write.

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