Cruel treatment of children shortens their chromosomes

Childhood abuse also leaves its mark at the genetic level – victims of abuse have shorter telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that can lead to reduced life expectancy and serious problems with health.

This conclusion was reached by scientists from Duke University, North Carolina. Their study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The length of telomeric stretches of DNA is known to serve as a kind of cell division counter.

The shorter they are, the greater the number of divisions through which the cells – precursors have passed since the moment of birth.

In addition, previous research has established a link between stress and telomere shortening, as well as a relationship between telomere length and the development of such diseases as diabetes and senile dementia.

Scientists from Duke University used the basic data obtained as a result of a long-term study, which is aimed at determining the degree of influence of genetic factors and those of the environment on human development.

1,100 British pairs of twins participated in the study, whose observation began from their birth.

In addition to information on diet, education and income, the researchers surveyed the mothers of the twins about whether their children had been subjected to different forms of violence – direct physical violence, threats or intimidation outside or at home.

Researchers separated one group of 236 children, half of whom were subjected to some form of violence.

Using DNA samples taken from these children when they were 5 and 10 years old, respectively, the scientists measured the length of their telomeres using polymerase chain reaction to determine how many times that stretch of the gene had self-duplicated. It was found that the telomeres of abused children were significantly shorter than those who enjoyed normal treatment.

Furthermore, a clear relationship was found between the amount of negative experiences a child had and the number of shortened DNA ends in his cells.

Study authors conclude that child victims of abuse age faster, have more disease in adulthood and may have shorter life spans than those who have enjoyed of good attitude in his childhood.

At the same time, the scientists also paid attention to the fact that some children who were subjected to violence until the age of 5, but not later, by the 10th year of their life, a slight lengthening of telomeres was observed.

And in children exposed to some form of violence between the ages of 5 and 10, their telomeres shorten significantly.

The study authors suggest that, given the possibility of measurement error, the lengthening of telomeres may be due to the positive changes in children’s lives.

However, since so far cases of “rebirth” of DNA sections have not been described, the established lengthening of telomeres by the 10th year of life of children raises doubts among scientists.


The team of scientists from Duke University intends to continue the research and plans to measure the telomeres of the study participants, who are now 18 years old, again and analyze how the length of these stretches of DNA changed with the already altered externalities. conditions.

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