Individual differences in personality are associated with variation in healthy aging. Health behaviours are often cited as the likely explanation for this association; however, an underlying biological mechanism may also exist. Accelerated leukocyte telomere shortening is implicated in multiple age-related diseases and is associated with chronic activation of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, providing a link between stress-related personality differences and adverse health outcomes. However, the effects of the HPA axis are tissue specific. Thus, leukocyte telomere length may not accurately reflect telomere length in disease-relevant tissues. Here, we examined the correlation between stress reactivity and telomere length in heart and brain tissue in young (6–9 month) and aging (18 month) zebrafish. Stress reactivity was assessed by tank diving and through gene expression. Telomere length was assessed using quantitative PCR. We show that aging zebrafish have shorter telomeres in both heart and brain. Telomere length was inversely related to stress reactivity in heart but not brain of aging individuals. These data support the hypotheses that an anxious predisposition contributes to accelerated telomere shortening in heart tissue, which may have important implications for our understanding of age-related heart disease, and that stress reactivity contributes to age-related telomere shortening in a tissue-specific manner.
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