June 16, 2013
More Telomerase Activity In Depressed People

Telomere caps on chromosomes shorten every time a cell divides and short telomeres interfere with cell division. However, in some conditions cellls turn on an enzyme, telomerase, that lengthens telomeres. Higher telomerase activity in depressed people might be an attempt by the body to boost neurogenesis against depression.

Now a research team led by Owen Wolkowitz, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, has found that within cells of the immune system, activity of an enzyme called telomerase is greater, on average, in untreated individuals with major depression. The preliminary findings from his latest, ongoing study was reported Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco.

Telomerase is an enzyme that lengthens protective end caps on the chromosomes’ DNA, called telomeres. Shortened telomeres have been associated with earlier death and with chronic diseases in population studies.

The heightened telomerase activity in untreated major depression might represent the body’s attempt to fight back against the progression of disease, in order to prevent biological damage in long-depressed individuals, Wolkowitz said.

Depression that comes on as some people get older might be a result of telomere shortening undermining the ability of the body to make replacement neurons.

The researchers made another discovery that may suggest a protective role for telomerase. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they found that, in untreated, depressed study participants, the size of the hippocampus, a brain structure that is critical for learning and memory, was associated with the amount of telomerase activity measured in the white blood cells. Such an association at a single point in time cannot be used to conclude that there is a cause-and-effect relationship with telomerase helping to protect the hippocampus, but it is plausible, Wolkowitz said.

Antidepressant drugs known to boost neurogenesis appear to boost telomerase activity.

Remarkably, the researchers also found that the enzyme’s activity went up when some patients began taking an antidepressant. In fact, depressed participants with lower telomerase activity at baseline — as well as those in whom enzyme activity increased the most with treatment — were the most likely to become less depressed with treatment.

Omega 3 fatty acids might slow the rate of telomere shortening.

Among this cohort of patients with coronary artery disease, there was an inverse relationship between baseline blood levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids and the rate of telomere shortening over 5 years.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 June 16 10:14 PM 

Andrea said at June 17, 2013 3:27 PM:

Your posts are very thought-provoking. Study of the connections between telomere length and cancer is complex and interesting.

"Telomere shortening inhibits tumorigenesis in models with intact p53 pathways"

"To determine whether telomere attrition influences the malignant transformation process, telomerase-knockout mice have been intercrossed with various engineered mouse models of cancer. These model systems have afforded the opportunity to study in vivo the effect of telomere shortening on cancer development in different tissue types and in different genotypic contexts."

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