Longevity Briefs: How Heritable is Epigenetic Ageing?

Posted on 21 September 2020

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

What is epigenetics, and how are genes turned on or off?

Why is this research important: We know that epigenetic changes such as DNA methylation play an important role in ageing and the development of age-related diseases. However, the factors affecting stability and changes in DNA methylation have rarely been examined over an extended period. To what extent do environmental factors contribute compared with genetic factors, and does this change over time?

What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers measured DNA methylation in the white blood cells of 53 pairs of ageing twins over a period of 10 years.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Results suggested that genetic differences contribute relatively little to DNA methylation, and decreased across the decade. However, genetics made a large contribution to the stability of DNA methylation – that is, the ability of environmental factors to cause methylation changes. The methylation sites most affected by genetics were those involved in inflammation and the immune system, while regions involved in stress response pathways were most responsive to environmental change.

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