-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- Deprivation and neglect
can cause premature aging of children's chromosomes, a new study
Researchers examined DNA samples collected from
institutionalized children (62 boys and 47 girls) in Romania taking
part in a long-term study. Some of the children remained in the
institution, while others were transferred to high-quality foster
care at different ages.
Children who spent more time in an institution before age 5 had
premature shortening of chromosome tips (telomeres) when they
reached ages 6 to 10, the researchers found.
"The telomere is designed to protect the chromosome, so accelerating how early in life telomeres lose length correlates with shortened life span," principal investigator Charles Nelson, director of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Children's Hospital Boston, said in a hospital news release. "Children institutionalized early in life have shortened telomeres, which may lead to health consequences downstream, including premature aging."
He and his colleagues found differences between girls and boys.
The strongest predictor of telomere shortening for girls was the
amount of time spent in the institution before 22 months of age.
For boys, it was the amount of time spent in the institution before
54 months of age.
The study was published online May 17 in the journal
Previous research has linked shorter telomere length in adults
with cognitive defects and increased rates of cardiovascular
disease and cancer.
"One question we are currently studying is whether telomere length can recover as a child spends more time in foster care, or whether the shortening we observed reflects a permanent change," Nelson said.
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