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Deprivation and neglect found to age children's chromosomes
Date:5/17/2011

Boston, Mass. -- Studies in institutionalized Romanian children have found that the length of time spent in conditions of social deprivation and neglect correlates with lower IQ and behavioral problems. A new study, led by researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Tulane University, shows that early adversity even affects children's chromosomes prematurely shortening the chromosome tips, known as telomeres, and hastening how quickly their cells "age."

The study, published online this week in Molecular Psychiatry, is the first to find an association between adversity and telomere length in children. It is part of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP), which is conducting a long-term clinical trial tracking two groups of institutionalized children: those who remained in the institution and those who were removed to high-quality foster care at varying ages.

Laboratory studies, conducted by Stacy Drury and colleagues at Tulane University, examined DNA samples collected from mouth swabs of the Romanian children (62 boys and 47 girls). The studies found that children exposed longer to institutional care before age 5 had significantly shorter relative telomere length (compared to that expected for their age) when they reached age 6-10.

"The telomere is designed to protect the chromosome, so accelerating how early in life telomeres lose length correlates with shortened life span," says Charles Nelson, PhD, director of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Children's and principal investigator of BEIP. "Children institutionalized early in life have shortened telomeres, which may lead to health consequences downstream, including premature aging."

The actual biological significance of these findings is unknown, but the researchers note that studies in adults have associated shorter telomere length with cognitive defects and with increased rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The BEIP stu
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Contact: Keri Stedman
keri.stedman@childrens.harvard.edu
617-919-3110
Children's Hospital Boston
Source:Eurekalert

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