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Concept: Telomere

286

Disadvantaged social environments are associated with adverse health outcomes. This has been attributed, in part, to chronic stress. Telomere length (TL) has been used as a biomarker of chronic stress: TL is shorter in adults in a variety of contexts, including disadvantaged social standing and depression. We use data from 40, 9-y-old boys participating in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to extend this observation to African American children. We report that exposure to disadvantaged environments is associated with reduced TL by age 9 y. We document significant associations between low income, low maternal education, unstable family structure, and harsh parenting and TL. These effects were moderated by genetic variants in serotonergic and dopaminergic pathways. Consistent with the differential susceptibility hypothesis, subjects with the highest genetic sensitivity scores had the shortest TL when exposed to disadvantaged social environments and the longest TL when exposed to advantaged environments.

Concepts: Family, Scientific method, Sociology, Child, Telomere, Magnetic susceptibility, The Fragile, Highly sensitive person

238

Life history theory (LHT) predicts a trade-off between reproductive effort and the pace of biological aging. Energy invested in reproduction is not available for tissue maintenance, thus having more offspring is expected to lead to accelerated senescence. Studies conducted in a variety of non-human species are consistent with this LHT prediction. Here we investigate the relationship between the number of surviving children born to a woman and telomere length (TL, a marker of cellular aging) over 13 years in a group of 75 Kaqchikel Mayan women. Contrary to LHT’s prediction, women who had fewer children exhibited shorter TLs than those who had more children (p = 0.045) after controlling for TL at the onset of the 13-year study period. An “ultimate” explanation for this apparently protective effect of having more children may lay with human’s cooperative-breeding strategy. In a number of socio-economic and cultural contexts, having more chilren appears to be linked to an increase in social support for mothers (e.g., allomaternal care). Higher social support, has been argued to reduce the costs of further reproduction. Lower reproductive costs may make more metabolic energy available for tissue maintenance, resulting in a slower pace of cellular aging. At a “proximate” level, mechanisms involved may include the actions of the gonadal steroid estradiol, which increases dramatically during pregnancy. Estradiol is known to protect TL from the effects of oxidative stress as well as increase telomerase activity, an enzyme that maintains TL. Future research should explore the potential role of social support as well as that of estradiol and other potential biological pathways in the trade-offs between reproductive effort and the pace of cellular aging within and among human as well as in non-human populations.

Concepts: Human, Reproduction, Metabolism, Senescence, Organism, Reproductive system, Telomerase, Telomere

233

There is increasing interest in discovering mechanisms that mediate the effects of childhood stress on late-life disease morbidity and mortality. Previous studies have suggested one potential mechanism linking stress to cellular aging, disease and mortality in humans: telomere erosion. We examined telomere erosion in relation to children’s exposure to violence, a salient early-life stressor, which has known long-term consequences for well-being and is a major public-health and social-welfare problem. In the first prospective-longitudinal study with repeated telomere measurements in children while they experienced stress, we tested the hypothesis that childhood violence exposure would accelerate telomere erosion from age 5 to age 10 years. Violence was assessed as exposure to maternal domestic violence, frequent bullying victimization and physical maltreatment by an adult. Participants were 236 children (49% females; 42% with one or more violence exposures) recruited from the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative 1994-1995 birth cohort. Each child’s mean relative telomere length was measured simultaneously in baseline and follow-up DNA samples, using the quantitative PCR method for T/S ratio (the ratio of telomere repeat copy numbers to single-copy gene numbers). Compared with their counterparts, the children who experienced two or more kinds of violence exposure showed significantly more telomere erosion between age-5 baseline and age-10 follow-up measurements, even after adjusting for sex, socioeconomic status and body mass index (B=-0.052, s.e.=0.021, P=0.015). This finding provides support for a mechanism linking cumulative childhood stress to telomere maintenance, observed already at a young age, with potential impact for life-long health.

Concepts: Cohort study, Epidemiology, Senescence, Sociology, Body mass index, Ratio, Telomere, Abuse

211

Life stress resulting from early-life experiences and domestic stress is linked with shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL), but evidence on employment-related stress is scarce. We explored whether unemployment in early adulthood is associated with shorter LTL, a potential biomarker of premature aging.

Concepts: Death, Senescence, Biology, Cell division, Telomerase, Telomere, Immortality

182

Leucocyte telomere length (LTL) shortening is associated with cardiovascular ischemic events and mortality in humans, but data on its association with subclinical atherosclerosis are scarce. Whether the incidence and severity of subclinical atherosclerosis are associated with the abundance of critically short telomeres, a major trigger of cellular senescence, remains unknown.

Concepts: Death, Senescence, Cell division, Radical, Telomerase, Telomere, Maximum life span, Immortality

174

A major interest has recently emerged in understanding how telomere shortening, mechanism triggering cell senescence, is linked to organism ageing and life history traits in wild species. However, the links between telomere length and key history traits such as reproductive performances have received little attention and remain unclear to date. The leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea is a long-lived species showing rapid growth at early stages of life, one of the highest reproductive outputs observed in vertebrates and a dichotomised reproductive pattern related to migrations lasting 2 or 3 years, supposedly associated with different environmental conditions. Here we tested the prediction of blood telomere shortening with age in this species and investigated the relationship between blood telomere length and reproductive performances in leatherback turtles nesting in French Guiana. We found that blood telomere length did not differ between hatchlings and adults. The absence of blood telomere shortening with age may be related to an early high telomerase activity. This telomere-restoring enzyme was formerly suggested to be involved in preventing early telomere attrition in early fast-growing and long-lived species, including squamate reptiles. We found that within one nesting cycle, adult females having performed shorter migrations prior to the considered nesting season had shorter blood telomeres and lower reproductive output. We propose that shorter blood telomeres may result from higher oxidative stress in individuals breeding more frequently (i.e., higher costs of reproduction) and/or restoring more quickly their body reserves in cooler feeding areas during preceding migration (i.e., higher foraging costs). This first study on telomeres in the giant leatherback turtle suggests that blood telomere length predicts not only survival chances, but also reproductive performances. Telomeres may therefore be a promising new tool to evaluate individual reproductive quality which could be useful in such species of conservation concern.

Concepts: Senescence, Organism, Turtle, Telomere, Costa Rica, Hawksbill turtle, Leatherback turtle, Sea turtle

172

Single-molecule techniques facilitate analysis of mechanical transitions within nucleic acids and proteins. Here, we describe an integrated fluorescence and magnetic tweezers instrument that permits detection of nanometer-scale DNA structural rearrangements together with the application of a wide range of stretching forces to individual DNA molecules. We have analyzed the force-dependent equilibrium and rate constants for telomere DNA G-quadruplex (GQ) folding and unfolding, and have determined the location of the transition state barrier along the well-defined DNA-stretching reaction coordinate. Our results reveal the mechanical unfolding pathway of the telomere DNA GQ is characterized by a short distance (<1 nm) to the transition state for the unfolding reaction. This mechanical unfolding response reflects a critical contribution of long-range interactions to the global stability of the GQ fold, and suggests that telomere-associated proteins need only disrupt a few base pairs to destabilize GQ structures. Comparison of the GQ unfolded state with a single-stranded polyT DNA revealed the unfolded GQ exhibits a compacted non-native conformation reminiscent of the protein molten globule. We expect the capacity to interrogate macromolecular structural transitions with high spatial resolution under conditions of low forces will have broad application in analyses of nucleic acid and protein folding.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Protein structure, Base pair, Protein folding, Hydrogen bond, Telomere, Nucleotide

169

The establishment of a specific nucleoprotein structure, the telomere, is required to ensure the protection of chromosome ends from being recognized as DNA damage sites. Telomere shortening below a critical length triggers a DNA damage response that leads to replicative senescence. In normal human somatic cells, characterized by telomere shortening with each cell division, telomere uncapping is a regulated process associated with cell turnover. Nevertheless, telomere dysfunction has also been associated with genomic instability, cell transformation, and cancer. Despite the essential role telomeres play in chromosome protection and in tumorigenesis, our knowledge of the chromatin structure involved in telomere maintenance is still limited. Here we review the recent findings on chromatin modifications associated with the dynamic changes of telomeres from protected to deprotected state and their role in telomere functions.

Concepts: DNA, Cell nucleus, Senescence, Histone, Cell division, Chromosome, Telomere, Chromatin

168

The G-quadruplex ligands database (G4LDB, http://www.g4ldb.org) provides a unique collection of reported G-quadruplex ligands to streamline ligand/drug discovery targeting G-quadruplexes. G-quadruplexes are guanine-rich nucleic acid sequences in human telomeres and gene promoter regions. There is a growing recognition for their profound roles in a wide spectrum of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Ligands that affect the structure and activity of G-quadruplexes can shed light on the search for G-quadruplex-targeting drugs. Therefore, we built the G4LDB to (i) compile a data set covering various physical properties and 3D structure of G-quadruplex ligands; (ii) provide Web-based tools for G-quadruplex ligand design; and (iii) to facilitate the discovery of novel therapeutic and diagnostic agents targeting G-quadruplexes. G4LDB currently contains >800 G-quadruplex ligands with ∼4000 activity records, which, to our knowledge, is the most extensive collection of its kind. It offers a user friendly interface that can meet a variety of data inquiries from researchers. For example, ligands can be searched for by name, molecular properties, structures, ligand activities and so on. Building on the reported data, the database also provides an online ligand design module that can predict ligand binding affinity in real time.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cancer, Promoter, Ligand, RNA polymerase, G-quadruplex, Telomere

99

Stress over the lifespan is thought to promote accelerated aging and early disease. Telomere length is a marker of cell aging that appears to be one mediator of this relationship. Telomere length is associated with early adversity and with chronic stressors in adulthood in many studies. Although cumulative lifespan adversity should have bigger impacts than single events, it is also possible that adversity in childhood has larger effects on later life health than adult stressors, as suggested by models of biological embedding in early life. No studies have examined the individual vs. cumulative effects of childhood and adulthood adversities on adult telomere length. Here, we examined the relationship between cumulative childhood and adulthood adversity, adding up a range of severe financial, traumatic, and social exposures, as well as comparing them to each other, in relation to salivary telomere length. We examined 4,598 men and women from the US Health and Retirement Study. Single adversities tended to have nonsignificant relations with telomere length. In adjusted models, lifetime cumulative adversity predicted 6% greater odds of shorter telomere length. This result was mainly due to childhood adversity. In adjusted models for cumulative childhood adversity, the occurrence of each additional childhood event predicted 11% increased odds of having short telomeres. This result appeared mainly because of social/traumatic exposures rather than financial exposures. This study suggests that the shadow of childhood adversity may reach far into later adulthood in part through cellular aging.

Concepts: DNA, Senescence, Biology, Telomere, Adult, Coming of age