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Changes in kids’ genomes linked to chronic stress

There may be a link between socioeconomic status and shortened telomeres (pink), which cap the ends of chromosomes (blue).

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Growing up in poverty or an unstable home is associated with shortened protective caps on the ends of children’s chromosomes, researchers report April 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Shorter chromosome caps, called telomeres, have been linked to increased risk of death.

In a study of 40 nine-year-old boys, kids from underprivileged backgrounds had telomeres that were 19 percent shorter than those of boys from more privileged environments.

The finding supports other recent studies that found a connection between low socioeconomic status and shortened telomeres. It also raises new questions about the role of genes related to two brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. The genes may be involved in moderating the link between telomere length and underprivileged upbringings, the study suggests.

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