Identifying and validating molecular targets of interventions that extend the human health span and lifespan has been difficult, as most clinical biomarkers are not sufficiently representative of the fundamental mechanisms of ageing to serve as their indicators. In a recent breakthrough, biomarkers of ageing based on DNA methylation data have enabled accurate age estimates for any tissue across the entire life course. These 'epigenetic clocks' link developmental and maintenance processes to biological ageing, giving rise to a unified theory of life course. Epigenetic biomarkers may help to address long-standing questions in many fields, including the central question: why do we age?
It was unknown whether plasma protein levels can be estimated based on DNA methylation (DNAm) levels, and if so, how the resulting surrogates can be consolidated into a powerful predictor of lifespan. We present here, seven DNAm-based estimators of plasma proteins including those of plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) and growth differentiation factor 15. The resulting predictor of lifespan, DNAm GrimAge (in units of years), is a composite biomarker based on the seven DNAm surrogates and a DNAm-based estimator of smoking pack-years. Adjusting DNAm GrimAge for chronological age generated novel measure of epigenetic age acceleration, AgeAccelGrim.Using large scale validation data from thousands of individuals, we demonstrate that DNAm GrimAge stands out among existing epigenetic clocks in terms of its predictive ability for time-to-death (Cox regression P=2.0E-75), time-to-coronary heart disease (Cox P=6.2E-24), time-to-cancer (P= 1.3E-12), its strong relationship with computed tomography data for fatty liver/excess visceral fat, and age-at-menopause (P=1.6E-12). AgeAccelGrim is strongly associated with a host of age-related conditions including comorbidity count (P=3.45E-17). Similarly, age-adjusted DNAm PAI-1 levels are associated with lifespan (P=5.4E-28), comorbidity count (P= 7.3E-56) and type 2 diabetes (P=2.0E-26). These DNAm-based biomarkers show the expected relationship with lifestyle factors including healthy diet and educational attainment.Overall, these epigenetic biomarkers are expected to find many applications including human anti-aging studies.
Notch proteins are important in binary cell-fate decisions and inhibiting differentiation in many developmental systems, and aberrant Notch signaling is associated with tumorigenesis. The role of Notch signaling in mammalian skin is less well characterized and is mainly based on in vitro studies, which suggest that Notch signaling induces differentiation in mammalian skin. Conventional gene targeting is not applicable to establishing the role of Notch receptors or ligands in the skin because Notch1-/- embryos die during gestation. Therefore, we used a tissue-specific inducible gene-targeting approach to study the physiological role of the Notch1 receptor in the mouse epidermis and the corneal epithelium of adult mice. Unexpectedly, ablation of Notch1 results in epidermal and corneal hyperplasia followed by the development of skin tumors and facilitated chemical-induced skin carcinogenesis. Notch1 deficiency in skin and in primary keratinocytes results in increased and sustained expression of Gli2, causing the development of basal-cell carcinoma-like tumors. Furthermore, Notch1 inactivation in the epidermis results in derepressed beta-catenin signaling in cells that should normally undergo differentiation. Enhanced beta-catenin signaling can be reversed by re-introduction of a dominant active form of the Notch1 receptor. This leads to a reduction in the signaling-competent pool of beta-catenin, indicating that Notch1 can inhibit beta-catenin-mediated signaling. Our results indicate that Notch1 functions as a tumor-suppressor gene in mammalian skin.
Notch signalling participates in the development of multicellular organisms by maintaining the self-renewal potential of some tissues and inducing the differentiation of others. Involvement of Notch in cancer was first highlighted in human T-cell leukaemia, fuelling the notion that aberrant Notch signalling promotes tumorigenesis. However, there is mounting evidence that Notch signalling is not exclusively oncogenic. It can instead function as a tumour suppressor.
DNA methylation (DNAm)-based biomarkers of aging have been developed for many tissues and organs. However, these biomarkers have sub-optimal accuracy in fibroblasts and other cell types used in ex vivo studies. To address this challenge, we developed a novel and highly robust DNAm age estimator (based on 391 CpGs) for human fibroblasts, keratinocytes, buccal cells, endothelial cells, lymphoblastoid cells, skin, blood, and saliva samples. High age correlations can also be observed in sorted neurons, glia, brain, liver, and even bone samples. Gestational age correlates with DNAm age in cord blood. When used on fibroblasts from Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome patients, this age estimator (referred to as the skin & blood clock) uncovered an epigenetic age acceleration with a magnitude that is below the sensitivity levels of other DNAm-based biomarkers. Furthermore, this highly sensitive age estimator accurately tracked the dynamic aging of cells cultured ex vivo and revealed that their proliferation is accompanied by a steady increase in epigenetic age. The skin & blood clock predicts lifespan and it relates to many age-related conditions. Overall, this biomarker is expected to become useful for forensic applications (e.g. blood or buccal swabs) and for a quantitative ex vivo human cell aging assay.
Telomere length (TL) is associated with several aging-related diseases. Here, we present a DNA methylation estimator of TL (DNAmTL) based on 140 CpGs. Leukocyte DNAmTL is applicable across the entire age spectrum and is more strongly associated with age than measured leukocyte TL (LTL) (r ~-0.75 for DNAmTL versus r ~ -0.35 for LTL). Leukocyte DNAmTL outperforms LTL in predicting: i) time-to-death (p=2.5E-20), ii) time-to-coronary heart disease (p=6.6E-5), iii) time-to-congestive heart failure (p=3.5E-6), and iv) association with smoking history (p=1.21E-17). These associations are further validated in large scale methylation data (n=10k samples) from the Framingham Heart Study, Women's Health Initiative, Jackson Heart Study, InChianti, Lothian Birth Cohorts, Twins UK, and Bogalusa Heart Study. Leukocyte DNAmTL is also associated with measures of physical fitness/functioning (p=0.029), age-at-menopause (p=0.039), dietary variables (omega 3, fish, vegetable intake), educational attainment (p=3.3E-8) and income (p=3.1E-5). Experiments in cultured somatic cells show that DNAmTL dynamics reflect in part cell replication rather than TL per se. DNAmTL is not only an epigenetic biomarker of replicative history of cells, but a useful marker of age-related pathologies that are associated with it.
A major goal of molecular oncology is to identify means to kill cells lacking p53 function. Most current cancer therapy is based on damaging cellular DNA by irradiation or chemicals. Recent reports support the notion that, in the event of DNA damage, the p53 tumour-suppressor protein is able to prevent cell death by sustaining an arrest of the cell cycle at the G2 phase. We report here that adeno-associated virus (AAV) selectively induces apoptosis in cells that lack active p53. Cells with intact p53 activity are not killed but undergo arrest in the G2 phase of the cell cycle. This arrest is characterized by an increase in p53 activity and p21 levels and by the targeted destruction of CDC25C. Neither cell killing nor arrest depends upon AAV-encoded proteins. Rather, AAV DNA, which is single-stranded with hairpin structures at both ends, elicits in cells a DNA damage response that, in the absence of active p53, leads to cell death. AAV inhibits tumour growth in mice. Thus viruses can be used to deliver DNA of unusual structure into cells to trigger a DNA damage response without damaging cellular DNA and to selectively eliminate those cells lacking p53 activity.
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