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Study on Young African-Americans Suggests Stress May Impact DNA

Telomeres are molecular “caps” that protect the ends of our chromosomes. Genetics and our environments can cause them to shorten over time, which means that telomere length may serve as a built-in gauge of our age and health.

The first study to look at how genetics determine telomere length in young African-Americans suggests that their telomeres “may age faster than in other groups,” according to its senior author, Distinguished Professor Luisa Borrell (Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, The Graduate Center, CUNY). The finding could be related to “stress, discrimination, and all the negative experiences they endure,” she said.

The study, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports, sheds light on how DNA may be impacted by “social environments and stressors.” Borrell and her colleagues used blood samples to examine telomeres and genomes of 492 young, healthy African-Americans. None of the genetic markers found to affect telomere length in European and Asians had the same effect in this group.

Past research on genetic factors that influence telomere length has mostly focused on adults of European and Asian descent. “Our results underscore the importance of examining genetic associations with telomere length in diverse pediatric populations such as African-Americans,” Borrell said. She noted a need for research on the Hispanic pediatric population as well.

Collaborators include the University of California, San Francisco; University of Washington, Seattle; San Francisco State University; Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland; Kaiser Permanente-Vallejo Medical Center; Bay Area Pediatrics of Oakland; Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas Children’s Hospital of Houston.

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Luisa Borrell (Department Chair and Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics) | Profile 1