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Stress Accelerates Epigenetic Aging

Posted on 27 December 2015

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New research has confirmed excessive exposure to stress hormones can accelerate the epigenetic aging process.

It’s well established that intense psychological stress has wide ranging effects on the body, many of them detrimental. But how exactly does stress impact on your health, and what cellular mechanisms does it influence? Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have now established that cumulative stress can alter your epigenetic profile – quickening changes connected to the aging process. 

Genetics is only part of your story

Your genes may contain essential codes for all of your proteins, but epigenetic regulation dictates how this code is translated; like an orchestra being conducted. By attaching chemical methyl group, the cell can silence gene expression. There are also a number of other mechanisms which the cell can use to limit or up-regulate gene expression. 

To discover this age mimicking effect, the team analysed DNA methylation profiles in those affected by lifetime trauma. The stress had essentially ‘prematurely’ aged their DNA expression. Chronic activation of these stress hormone receptors can apparently lead to long term changes in gene regulation that resemble those occurring ‘naturally’ in an aging individual. 

“Glucocorticoids are molecular effectors of our response to stress and can exert actions in essentially every body organ via activation of the stress-hormone receptor. The stress hormone receptor regulates gene expression by binding to specific response elements in the DNA. This can also lead to long lasting “epigenetic reprogramming. We found that such a stress-induced reprogramming happens in sites that are associated with aging.”

Lifestyle changes might help, but we can do more

Stress is unavoidable in many people’s lives, and in small amounts it can even be beneficial. Through understanding that chronic activation can lead to these detrimental changes, we’ll be able to modulate stress responses and develop drugs to reverse these modifications – reversing expression to a more youthful profile. 

Read more at Neuroscience News

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