1 min readResearchers Identify Key Genes That Switch Off With Ageing

A twin pair from the study at young and old age. Image: Small World News Service

Hinxton & London, UK – In a joint collaboration between King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, scientists have identified a group of ‘ageing’ genes that are switched on and off by natural mechanisms called epigenetic factors, influencing the rate of healthy ageing and potential longevity.

The team suggests that these epigenetic processes – that can be caused by external factors such as diet, lifestyle and environment – are likely to be initiated from an early age and continue through a person’s life. They say that the epigenetic changes they have identified could be used as potential ‘markers’ of biological ageing and in the future could be possible targets for anti-ageing therapies.

Published today in PLoS Genetics, the study looked at 172 twins aged 32 to 80 from the TwinsUK cohort based at King’s College London and St Thomas’ Hospital, as part of King’s Health Partners.

The team used epigenome-wide association to compare genetic variants between the sets of twins in relation to chronological age. They identified 490 age related epigenetic changes. They also analyzed genetic variants in age related traits and found epigenetic changes in four genes related to cholesterol, lung function and maternal longevity.

To try to identify when these epigenetic changes may be triggered, the researchers replicated the study in 44 sets of younger twins, aged 22 – 61 and found that many of the 490 age related epigenetic changes were also present in this younger group.

This study indicates that age related genetic variations occur throughout our life, many of which are initiated early in life. A small set of these variants may be responsible for mediating the environmental and genetic effects that lead to the physical effects of age.

Dr Jordana Bell from King’s College London, who co-led the study said: “We found that epigenetic changes associate with age related traits that have previously been used to define biological age.

“We identified many age-related epigenetic changes, but four seemed to impact the rate of healthy ageing and potential longevity and we can use these findings as potential markers of ageing. These results can help understand the biological mechanisms underlying healthy ageing and age-related disease, and future work will explore how environmental effects can affect these epigenetic changes.”

Dr Panos Deloukas, co-leader of the study from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “Our study interrogated only a fraction of sites in the genome that carry such epigenetic changes; these initial findings support the need for a more comprehensive scan of epigenetic variation.”


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