Stress during childhood, shows up in the DNA. Children who spent their early years in state-run Romanian orphanages have shorter telomeres than the ones who grew up in foster families, according to a study of children from Romanian orphanages.
Biologically, telomeres get slightly shorter each time a chromosome replicates during cell division. However, it has now emerged that stress may also result in their shortening.
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The study was initiated at a time when orphanages were still common in Romania and a foster care system was especially established for this project.
Researchers analysed 136 orphans aged between 6-30 months, half of whom were assigned to foster families and the other half remained in orphanages.
They measured the length of the telomeres from DNA samples of the children when they were 6-10 years old and found that kids who stayed in the orphanage for longer had shorter telomeres compared to their peers in foster care.
"It shows that being in institutional care affects children right down to the molecular level," said Stacy Drury, clinical psychiatrist of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The study is published in Molecular Psychiatry1.