Telomere length and early trauma in schizophrenia

Gabriella Riley, Mary Perrin, Leila M. Vaez-Azizi, Eugene Ruby, Raymond R. Goetz, Roberta Dracxler, Julie Walsh-Messinger, David L. Keefe, Peter F. Buckley, Philip R. Szeszko, Dolores Malaspina

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Childhood trauma is emerging as a risk factor for schizophrenia, but its mechanism with respect to etiology is unknown. One possible pathway is through leucocyte telomere length (LTL) shortening, a measure of cellular aging associated with trauma. This study examined early trauma and LTL shortening in schizophrenia and considered sex effects. Methods: The early trauma inventory (ETI) was administered to 48 adults with DSM-5 schizophrenia and 18 comparison participants. LTL was measured using qPCR. Outcomes: Cases had significantly more global trauma (F = 4.10, p < 0.01) and traumatic events (F = 11.23, p < 0.001), but case and control groups had similar LTL (1.91 ± 0.74 and 1.83 ± 0.62: p = 0.68). The association of early trauma and LTL differed by sex in cases and controls (Fisher's R: Z < 0.05). Significant negative associations were shown in male cases and, conversely, in female controls. For example, physical punishment was associated LTL shortening in males’ cases (r = −0.429, p < 01). Only female controls showed significant telomere shortening in association with early trauma. Interpretation: This data confirms the substantial excess of early trauma among schizophrenia cases. There were significant sex-differences in the relationship of the trauma to LTL, with only male cases showing the expected shortening. There were converse sex effects in the control group. Mean LTL was notably similar in cases and controls, despite the trauma-related shortening in male cases, cigarette smoking, older age and chronic illness of the cases. Factors may lengthen LTL in some schizophrenia cases. The converse sex differences in the cases are consistent with findings defective sexual differentiation in schizophrenia, consistent with other findings in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-430
Number of pages5
JournalSchizophrenia Research
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Childhood trauma
  • Early trauma
  • Leukocytes
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stress
  • Telomeres


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