A long-term study of children from Romanian orphanages suggests that the effects of childhood stress could be visible in their DNA as they grow up.The good news is it may not be permanent:
Children who spent their early years in state-run Romanian orphanages have shorter telomeres than children who grew up in foster care, according to a study published today in Molecular Psychiatry. Telomeres are buffer regions of non-coding DNA at the ends of chromosomes that prevent the loss of protein-coding DNA when cells divide. Telomeres get slightly shorter each time a chromosome replicates during cell division, but stress can also cause them to shorten. Shorter telomeres are associated with a raft of diseases in adults from diabetes to dementia.
Iiris Hovatta of the Research Program of Molecular Neurology at the University of Helsinki, who was not involved in the Romanian study, suggests that shortened telomeres might not be permanent. "Studies in adults have shown that telomere length in some individuals increases over time, and this tends to occur in those people who have shorter telomeres to begin with," says Hovatta.
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