Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Epigenetic Clock Marks Age of Human Tissues and Cells

Published: Tuesday, November 05, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 05, 2013
Bookmark and Share
The age of many human tissues and cells is reflected in chemical changes to DNA. The finding provides insights for cancer, aging, and stem cell research.

We may gauge how we’re aging based on visible changes, such as wrinkles. For years, scientists have been trying to gauge aging based on changes inside our cells.

Many alterations occur to our DNA as we age. Some of these changes are epigenetic—they modify DNA without altering the genetic sequence itself. These changes affect how cells in different parts of the body use the same genetic code. By controlling when specific genes are turned on and off, or “expressed,” they tell cells what to do, where to do it, and when to do it.

One such type of modification occurs when chemical tags known as methyl groups attach to DNA in specific places. This process, known as methylation, affects interactions between DNA and protein-making machinery. Changes in DNA methylation—both increases and decreases—occur with aging.

Dr. Steve Horvath from the University of California, Los Angeles, examined the relationship between DNA methylation and aging. He took advantage of publicly available methylation datasets, including ones from The Cancer Genome Atlas, a joint effort of NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). The datasets were developed by hundreds of researchers and comprised almost 8,000 samples of 51 healthy tissues and cell types. Samples came from people ranging in age from newborns to 101 years. They included tissues from throughout the body, including the brain, breast, skin, colon, kidney, liver, lung, and heart.

Horvath first developed an age predictor using 39 datasets. The tool was based on 353 specific DNA sites where methyl groups increased or decreased with age. He then tested the predictor in 32 additional datasets. Results appeared in the October 21, 2013, issue of Genome Biology.

Horvath found that the computed biological age based on DNA methylation closely predicted the chronological age of numerous tissues and cells to within just a few years. There were some tissues, however, where the biological age did not match the chronological age. These included skeletal muscle, heart tissue, and breast tissue. The clock also worked well in chimpanzees.

In both embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells—genetically altered adult cells with characteristics of embryonic stem cells—the DNA methylation age proved to be near zero.

Horvath also analyzed nearly 6,000 samples from 20 different cancers and found that cancer greatly affected DNA methylation age. However, in most cancers the age acceleration didn’t reflect the tumor grade and stage.

The rate of ticking of the biological clock, as measured by the rates of change in DNA methylation, wasn’t constant. It was faster from birth to adulthood, and then slowed to a constant rate around the age of 20.

Horvath didn’t find evidence of a relationship with DNA methylation age in B cells (a type of white blood cell) from people with a premature aging disease (progeria).

“Pinpointing a set of biomarkers that keeps time throughout the body has been a 4-year challenge,” Horvath says. “My goal in inventing this age-predictive tool is to help scientists improve their understanding of what speeds up and slows down the human aging process.”

UCLA has filed a provisional patent on the age-predictive tool, which is freely available to scientists online. Horvath plans to examine whether DNA methylation is only a marker of aging or itself affects aging.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Lucentis Effective for Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
NIH-funded clinical trial marks first major advance in therapy in 40 years.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Batten Disease may Benefit from Gene Therapy
NIH-funded animal study suggests one-shot approach to injecting genes.
Friday, November 13, 2015
Molecule Proves Key to Brain Repair After Stroke
Scientists found that a molecule known as growth and differentiation factor 10 (GDF10) plays a key role in repair mechanisms following stroke.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
NIH Researchers Link Single Gene Variation to Obesity
Variation in the BDNF gene may affect brain’s regulation of appetite, study suggests.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Researchers Identify Potential Alternative to CRISPR-Cas Genome Editing Tools
New Cas enzymes shed light on evolution of CRISPR-Cas systems.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Potential Alternative to CRISPR-Cas Genome Editing Tools
New Cas enzymes shed light on evolution of CRISPR-Cas systems.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Charting Genetic Variation Across the Globe
An international team of scientists has created the world’s largest catalog of human genetic differences in populations around the globe.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Gene Therapy Staves Off Blindness from Retinitis Pigmentosa in Canine Model
NIH-funded study suggests therapeutic window may extend to later-stage disease.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Nuclear Transport Problems Linked to ALS and FTD
NIH-supported studies point to potential new target for treating neurodegenerative diseases.
Monday, October 19, 2015
Scientists Develop Genetic Blueprint of Inner Ear Cell Development
Two studies in mice use new technique to provide insight into cell development critical for hearing, balance.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
$21M Invested in Research Hubs in Developing Countries
The National Institutes of Health and other U.S. and Canadian partners are investing $20.9 million dollars over five years to establish seven regional research and training centers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Friday, October 09, 2015
NIH Breast Cancer Research to Focus On Prevention
A new phase of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), focused on prevention, is being launched at the National Institutes of Health.
Friday, October 09, 2015
NIH Grantees Win 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to NIH grantees Paul Modrich, Ph.D., of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C.; and Aziz Sancar, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.,.
Thursday, October 08, 2015
NIH Announces High-Risk, High-Reward Research Awardees
NIH to fund 78 awards to support highly innovative biomedical research.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
New Gene Therapy for Vision Loss From a Mitochondrial Disease
NIH-funded study shows success in targeting mitochondrial DNA in mice.
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
How a Genetic Locus Protects Adult Blood-Forming Stem Cells
Mammalian imprinted Gtl2 protects adult hematopoietic stem cells by restricting metabolic activity in the cells' mitochondria.
Genetic Basis of Fatal Flu Side Effect Discovered
A group of people with fatal H1N1 flu died after their viral infections triggered a deadly hyperinflammatory disorder in susceptible individuals with gene mutations linked to the overactive immune response, according to a recent study.
New Tech Vastly Improves CRISPR/Cas9 Accuracy
A new CRISPR/Cas9 technology developed by scientists at UMass Medical School is precise enough to surgically edit DNA at nearly any genomic location, while avoiding potentially harmful off-target changes typically seen in standard CRISPR gene editing techniques.
The MaxSignal Colistin ELISA Test Kit from Bioo Scientific
Kit can help prevent the antibiotic apocalypse by keeping last resort drugs out of the food supply.
"Good" Mozzie Virus Might Hold Key to Fighting Human Disease
Australian scientists have discovered a new virus carried by one of the country’s most common pest mosquitoes.
Non-Disease Proteins Kill Brain Cells
Scientists at the forefront of cutting-edge research into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have shown that the mere presence of protein aggregates may be as important as their form and identity in inducing cell death in brain tissue.
Closing the Loop on an HIV Escape Mechanism
Research team finds that protein motions regulate virus infectivity.
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Potential Treatment for Life-Threatening Viral Infections Revealed
The findings point to new therapies for Dengue, West Nile and Ebola.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos