Telomere length as a predictor of emotional processing in the brain

Timothy R. Powell, Simone De Jong, Gerome Breen, Cathryn M. Lewis, Danai Dima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Shorter telomere length (TL) has been associated with the development of mood disorders as well as abnormalities in brain morphology. However, so far, no studies have considered the role TL may have on brain function during tasks relevant to mood disorders. In this study, we examine the relationship between TL and functional brain activation and connectivity, while participants (n = 112) perform a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) facial affect recognition task. Additionally, because variation in TL has a substantial genetic component we calculated polygenic risk scores for TL to test if they predict face-related functional brain activation. First, our results showed that TL was positively associated with increased activation in the amygdala and cuneus, as well as increased connectivity from posterior regions of the face network to the ventral prefrontal cortex. Second, polygenic risk scores for TL show a positive association with medial prefrontal cortex activation. The data support the view that TL and genetic loading for shorter telomeres, influence the function of brain regions known to be involved in emotional processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1750-1759
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number6
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • bipolar disorder
  • emotional faces
  • fMRI
  • polygenic risk score
  • telomere length


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