Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 911–923 | Cite as

Familial support following childhood sexual abuse is associated with longer telomere length in adult females

  • David W. SosnowskiEmail author
  • Wendy Kliewer
  • Timothy P. York
  • Ananda B. Amstadter
  • Colleen K. Jackson-Cook
  • Marcia A. Winter


Robust associations between adverse childhood experiences and shortened telomere length exist, but few studies have examined factors that may moderate this association, particularly with a resilience framework. The present study examined the association between exposure to childhood sexual abuse (and abuse severity) and mean telomere length, and whether social support and optimism moderated this association. The sample included 99 White monozygotic female twins, ranging in age from 35 to 70 (Mage = 52.74, SD = 8.55 years), who provided a blood sample for telomere assay, and data on their childhood sexual abuse history, trait optimism, and current social support. Linear mixed effects models were employed to test study hypotheses. There were no effects of exposure to abuse or abuse severity on mean telomere length, nor were there main or moderating effects of optimism, in analyses of the full sample. However, in analyses that only included women exposed to abuse, there was an abuse type × support interaction: among women who experienced abuse in forms other than intercourse, higher levels of social support were associated with longer mean telomere length. Findings from the current study clarify the role of childhood sexual abuse in telomere attrition, and identify one factor that may protect against the negative biological effects of childhood sexual abuse.


Sexual abuse Telomere Protective Social support Optimism Female 



This study was funded by the National Institute on Aging Grant R01AG037986 awarded to Dr. Colleen Jackson-Cook and Dr. Timothy P. York. The study was approved by the Virginia Commonwealth University Institutional Review Board (#12407).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

David W. Sosnowski, Wendy Kliewer, Timothy P. York, Ananda B. Amstadter, Colleen K. Jackson-Cook, and Marcia A. Winter declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Human and animal rights and Informed consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human and Molecular GeneticsVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  4. 4.Department of PathologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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