The impact of psychological stress and malnutrition on genome stability and telomere integrity

SIEF supports John Stocker Postdoctoral Fellow studying the impact of psychological stress and malnutrition on genome stability and telomere integrity.

DNA duble helix graphic.

Researching genome stability and telomere integrity.

The challenge

Telomeres cap and protect the ends of our chromosomes. Shorter telomeres are associated with increased risk of degenerative diseases; psychological stress is a factor consistently associated with accelerated telomere shortening. With lifestyle stresses on the rise, it is important to know whether stress causes chromosomal damage, and whether and how this can be prevented.

The response

A SIEF John Stocker Postdoctoral Fellowship supported Dr Caroline Bull to study the impact of stress hormones and malnutrition on human telomere integrity and genomic stability, and whether nutrition can be a source of protection. Dr Bull used DNA methylation and fluorescence microscopy testing with in vivo and in vitro methods, and found that cortisol was unlikely to be a mediating factor in telomere shortening. Dr Bull also compared stress and nutritional intake of primary carers of dementia patients, to non-carers. She found a highly significant, positive association between psychological stress and DNA damage and a negative relationship between stress hormones and telomere length.

The collaboration

Dr Bull was supervised by Professor Michael Fenech, CSIRO, and Professor Helen Christensen, Black Dog Institute, University of NSW (formerly ANU).

The impact

The outcomes of this project will have important projected impacts, including:

  • Helping researchers identify the risks of psychological stress and more accurately target prevention methods and treatments, leading to increased quality of life and reduced healthcare burden on the community.
  • Supporting the career development of a promising Australian early career researcher in the field of immunology, including presenting her work in an international forum; publishing in high impact, peer reviewed journals; and gaining skills in grant and proposal writing, communication, and project and budget management.

Download: Genome stability and telomere integrity brochure [pdf · 176kb].