BACKGROUND: Molecular aging biomarkers, such as epigenetic age predictors, predict risk factors of premature aging, and morbidity/mortality more accurately than chronological age in middle-aged and elderly populations. Yet, it remains elusive if such biomarkers are associated with aging-related outcomes earlier in life when individuals begin to diverge in aging trajectories. We tested if the Horvath epigenetic age predictor is associated with pubertal, neuroendocrine, psychiatric, and cognitive aging-related outcomes in a sample of 239 adolescents, 11.0-13.2 years-old.
RESULTS: Each year increase in epigenetic age acceleration (AA) was associated with 0.06 SD units higher weight-for-age, 0.08 SD units taller height-for-age, -0.09 SD units less missed from the expected adult height, 13 and 16% higher odds, respectively, for each stage increase in breast/genitals development on the Tanner Staging Questionnaire and pubertal stage on the Pubertal Development Scale, 4.2% higher salivary cortisol upon awakening, and 18 to 34% higher odds for internalizing and thought problems on the Child Behavior Checklist (p values < 0.045). AA was not significantly associated with cognition.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that already in adolescence, AA is associated with physiological age acceleration, which may index risk of earlier aging. AA may identify individuals for preventive interventions decades before aging-related diseases become manifest.