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Epigenetic measures of ageing predict prevalence and incidence of leading causes of death and disease burden

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Abstract

Background: Individuals of the same chronological age display different rates of biological ageing. A number of measures of biological age have been proposed which harness age-related changes in DNA methylation profiles. These measures include five ‘epigenetic clocks’ which provide an index of how much an individual’s biological age differs from their chronological age at the time of measurement. The five clocks encompass methylation-based predictors of chronological age (HorvathAge, HannumAge), all-cause mortality (DNAm PhenoAge, DNAm GrimAge) and telomere length (DNAm Telomere Length). A sixth epigenetic measure of ageing differs from these clocks in that it acts as a speedometer providing a single time-point measurement of the pace of an individual’s biological ageing. This measure of ageing is termed DunedinPoAm. In this study, we test the association between these six major epigenetic measures of ageing and the prevalence and incidence of the leading causes of disease burden and mortality in high-income countries (n ≤ 9537, Generation Scotland: Scottish Family Health Study).
Results: DNAm GrimAge predicted incidence of clinically diagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease after thirteen years of follow-up (Hazard Ratios = 2.22, 1.52 and 1.41, respectively). DunedinPoAm predicted incidence of COPD and lung cancer (Hazard Ratios = 2.02 and 1.45, respectively). DNAm PhenoAge predicted incidence of type 2 diabetes (Hazard Ratio = 1.54). DNAm Telomere Length associated with incidence of ischemic heart disease (Hazard Ratio = 0.80). DNAm GrimAge associated with all-cause mortality, prevalence of COPD and spirometry measures at study baseline. These associations were present after adjusting for possibly confounding risk factors including alcohol consumption, body mass index, deprivation, education and tobacco smoking, and surpassed stringent Bonferroni-corrected significance thresholds.
Conclusions: Our data suggest that epigenetic measures of ageing may have utility in clinical settings to complement gold-standard methods for disease assessment and management.

    Research areas

  • DNA methylation, biological ageing, epigenetic age acceleration, epidemiology

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