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Chronic Stress May Increase Cellular Aging in Women

Oct 16, 2018 8:30:00 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

Stressed woman_AdobeStock_76737393-1-826430-editedA study using peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) demonstrates the link between women’s stress levels and shortened telomere length.

Stress is one of the body’s major means of reacting to life challenges, dangers, and difficulties. Various chemicals are released in the body that promote cellular and organ-level changes needed to cope with, adjust, and respond to stressors. The effects that are felt with chronic stress range anywhere from pain, digestive problems, and fatigue to sexual, cognitive, immunological, and emotional effects. Women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of stress due to unique challenges they face, including gender and race-based discrimination and forms of victimization.

Research has shown that increased stress (even anticipated stressful events) in woman may contribute to more premature brain aging when compared to men. A link has been identified between psychological stress and telomere shortening. Telomeres are regions of repeat nucleotide sequences located at the tips of chromosomes that protect the chromosomes from damage. Telomeres shorten when cells divide, and when they become too short, the cell ceases to divide and dies. Shortening of telomeres has been linked to aging, disease, and shorter life spans.

A study using PBMCs from healthy women was conducted to understand the relationship between chronic psychological stress and telomere length. Mean telomere length and telomerase activity were measured in PBMCs from women with children who were chronically ill (higher stress) or healthy children (lower stress). The PBMCs from women living under high stress levels had shortened telomeres that are normally found in women 10 years older. This suggests that psychological stress is associated with an increased rate of cellular aging, shorter telomere length, and lower telomerase activity in PBMCs.

To get more insight into the mechanism that links telomere length to stress, other researchers used yeast to explore the mediators of telomere responses to environmental stresses. They found Rap1 and Rif1 proteins to be directly affected leading to alterations in telomere length. If telomere length can be controlled or telomerase activity can be restored, the stress-related premature ageing process could be reversed or inhibited.

If you’re interested in using peripheral blood mononuclear cells for research, check out HemaCare’s product offering of cells and tissues.



Ryding, S. (2018). Telomere Shortening and Retrieved 3 October 2018, from

Topics: PBMCs

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