Background The neuroendocrine stress response allows vertebrates to cope with stressors via the activation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, which ultimately results in the secretion of glucocorticoids (GCs). Glucocorticoids have pleiotropic effects on behavior and physiology, and might influence telomere length dynamics. During a stress event, GCs mobilize energy towards survival mechanisms rather than to telomere maintenance. Additionally, reactive oxygen species produced in response to increased GC levels can damage telomeres, also leading to telomere shortening. In our systematic review and meta-analysis, we tested whether GC levels impact telomere length and if this relationship differs among time frame, life history stage, or stressor type. We hypothesized that elevated GC levels are linked to a decrease in telomere length. Methods We conducted a literature search for studies investigating the relationship between telomere length and GCs in non-human vertebrates using four search engines: Web of Science, Google Scholar, Pubmed and Scopus, last searched on September 27th, 2020. This review identified 31 studies examining the relationship between GCs and telomere length. We pooled the data using Fisher's Z for 15 of these studies. All quantitative studies underwent a risk of bias assessment. This systematic review study was registered in the Open Science Framework Registry (https://osf.io/rqve6). Results The pooled effect size from fifteen studies and 1066 study organisms shows no relationship between GCs and telomere length (Fisher's Z = 0.1042, 95% CI = 0.0235; 0.1836). Our meta-analysis synthesizes results from 15 different taxa from the mammalian, avian, amphibian groups. While these results support some previous findings, other studies have found a direct relationship between GCs and telomere dynamics, suggesting underlying mechanisms or concepts that were not taken into account in our analysis. The risk of bias assessment revealed an overall low risk of bias with occasional instances of bias from missing outcome data or bias in the reported result. Conclusion We highlight the need for more targeted experiments to understand how conditions, such as experimental timeframes, stressor(s), and stressor magnitudes can drive a relationship between the neuroendocrine stress response and telomere length.
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Lauren Zane, Dav C. Ensminger, and José Pablo Vázquez-Medina. "Short-term elevations in glucocorticoids do not alter telomere lengths: A systematic review and meta-analysis of non-primate vertebrate studies" PLoS ONE (2021). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257370