Researchers at King's College London, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, 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 study also suggests 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. The researchers 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 Academic Health Sciences Centre.
The researchers looked for epigenetic changes in the twins' DNA, and performed epigenome-wide association scans to analyse these changes in relation to chronological age. They identified 490 age related epigenetic changes. They also analysed DNA modifications in age related traits and found that epigenetic changes in four genes relate 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 younger twins, aged 22 to 61, and found that many of the 490 age related epigenetic changes were also present in this younger group. The researchers say these results suggest that while many age related epigenetic changes happen naturally with age throughout a person's life, a proportion of these changes may be initiated early in life.
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.'
Professor Tim Spector, senior author from King's College London, said: 'This study is the first glimpse of the potential that large twin studies have to find the key genes involved in ageing, how they can be modified by lifestyle and start to develop anti-ageing therapies. The future will be very exciting for age research.'
For further information or interviews with the authors please contact Emma Reynolds, Press Officer at King's College London, on 0207 848 4334/07545 419 898 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 30 universities in the world (2011/12 QS World University Rankings), and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,500 students (of whom more than 9,000 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 6,000 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.