Traumatic stress and cellular senescence: The role of war-captivity and homecoming stressors in later life telomere length

Jacob Y. Stein*, Yafit Levin, Orit Uziel, Heba Abumock, Zahava Solomon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Telomere length (TL) serves as a biomarker of cellular senescence and is a robust predictor of mortality. The association between traumatic stress and TL erosion is rapidly realized, as are the complexities of this relation that include links to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and psychosocial factors. Nevertheless, the relation between specific stressors in early adulthood and TL in later life, specifically among populations that have undergone extreme stress in early adulthood are largely uninvestigated. Method: Examining 99 Israeli former prisoners of war (ex-POWs) 18 and 42 years after repatriation, the current study investigated the role that specific stressors during captivity (i.e., physical abuse, nourishment deprivation and solitary confinement) and homecoming (i.e., received social-support, loss of place in the family, loneliness and sense of being accused) play in predicting TL 42 years post-repatriation. Intercorrelations analysis and a hierarchical linear regression were utilized. Variables that have been empirically associated with TL: age, BMI, physical activity, smoking, substance abuse, negative life events since repatriation, depression and PTSD symptoms were controlled for in the regression. Results: Solitary confinement during captivity, and loss of place in the family, loneliness and being accused at homecoming predicted shorter telomeres in later life. The remaining stressors did not significantly predict TL. Conclusion: These findings suggest that an adequate understanding of TL after trauma must consider the unique contributions of specific types of stressors across the lifespan, and particularly account for interpersonal deficits. The findings may inform preventive interventions aimed at improving ex-POWs’ longevity and well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-135
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • Cellular aging
  • Stressor-specific
  • Telomeres
  • Traumatic stress
  • War-captivity


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