The epigenetic clock, biological age, and chronic diseases
It has been a long standing goal to develop molecular biomarkers of biological age. Recent studies demonstrate that powerful epigenetic biomarkers of aging can be defined based on DNA methylation levels. For example, the epigenetic clock (PMID: 24138928) is a multivariate age estimation method that applies to sorted cell types (CD4T cells or neurons), complex tissues, and organs and even prenatal brain samples. The epigenetic clock is an attractive biomarker of aging because a) it applies to most human and chimpanzee tissues, b) its accurate measurement of chronological age is unprecedented, c) it is predictive of all-cause mortality even after adjusting for a variety of known risk factors, d) it correlates with measures of cognitive and physical fitness in the elderly, and e) it has been found useful for detecting accelerated aging effects due to obesity, Down syndrome, and HIV infection. Recent genomewide association studies shed light on the underlying biological mechanisms.
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