Abbreviated Abstract: Adverse childhood experiences are associated with mental and physical health risks that, through biological and psychosocial pathways, likely span generations. Within an individual, telomere length, an established marker of cellular stress and aging, is associated with both adverse childhood experiences and psychopathology, providing the basis for an emerging literature suggesting that telomere length is a biomarker of the health risks linked to early-life adversity both within and across generations. The authors tested the effect of maternal adverse childhood experiences on both the trajectory of infant telomere length and infant social-emotional problems at 18 months of age.

Higher maternal adverse childhood experiences were associated with shorter infant telomere length across infancy and higher infant externalizing behavioral problems at 18 months. In infants whose mothers reported higher scores on the Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire, greater telomere attrition predicted higher externalizing problems, even when accounting for maternal postnatal depression and prenatal stress. These data demonstrate an interactive pathway between maternal early-life adversity and infant telomere length that predicts emerging behavioral problems in the next generations.

Esteves KC, Jones CW, Wade M, Callerame K, Smith AK, Theall KP and Drury SS: Adverse Childhood Experiences: Implications for Offspring Telomere Length and Psychopathology. Amer. J. Psychiatry [Epub ahead of print, Sept. 6, 2019; doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18030335].

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