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Longevity Briefs: The Epigenetics of Ageing

Posted on 1 February 2021

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

Why is this research important: Epigenetics describe the processes which result in changes to gene expression without altering the DNA sequence. These processes include:

  • Histone modification – these are changes to the proteins which DNA is coiled around
  • DNA methylation – this is the attaching of methyl groups to ‘methylation’ sites, which act as a genetic switch, turning off the gene located downstream of the methylation site
  • MicroRNA (miRNA) production – these are short, single-stranded, non-coding RNAs which silence specific genes on coding DNA, preventing the genes from being expressed
Source: Epigenetics and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: New Perspectives?

There is an increasingly large body of evidence that epigenetic alterations may be a crucial contributor to the process of biological ageing in humans.

What did the researchers do: Dominik Saul and Robyn Laura Kosinsky co-authored a review paper delving into the current research looking at the role that epigenetics plays in ageing. The review focuses on the underlying epigenetic mechanics of age-related processes in various species and investigates how disruptions to these processes contribute to human disease.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Saul & Kosinsky conclude that there is an abundance of dysfunctional epigenetic mechanisms that are present in ageing individuals, as seen in the yellow ring of the figure below.

Source: Epigenetics of aging and aging-related diseases

Despite the molecular progression of epigenetic mechanisms through to disease being poorly understood, cutting-edge technology such as next generation epigenetic sequencing and single-cell sequencing open up the possibility of exploring these biological avenues in more detail than ever before.

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