Most studies of aging focus on the effects and symptoms of the aging process in the elderly, but a new study shows that this probably shouldn't be the case. The study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, found that preschoolers who show signs of oppositional defiant behavior are more likely to have biological signs of aging than those without behavioral issues. 

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), recruited 200 low-income Latino children between four and five years old for the study. They examined the length of the telomeres, the "caps" on the ends of chromosomes extracted from the subjects' white blood cells that keep DNA from being lost during cell division. Shortened telomeres are considered by the scientific community to be a biomarker of aging and are also associated with biological and psychological stress.

The researchers found that children with oppositional defiant behavior had shorter telomeres on average, which could also be linked to their mothers' history of clinical depression. Children with mothers who had clinical depression when they were three years old were more likely to experience telomere shortening and behavioral disorders than children with non-depressed mothers. Depressed mothers were also found to have shorter than average telomeres.

"Currently there are far more questions than answers about the myriad factors that shape and promote healthy telomere maintenance in early childhood. We may be catching a small glimpse of the intergenerational transmission of health," senior author Elissa Espel of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry said in a statement.

The authors emphasized that this study shows the importance of early intervention for maternal depression and childhood behavioral issues.

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