Epigenetic Clock: Just a Convenient Marker or an Active Driver of Aging?

  • Vasily V. AshapkinEmail author
  • Lyudmila I. Kutueva
  • Boris F. Vanyushin
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 1178)


A global DNA hypomethylation and local changes in the methylation levels of specific DNA loci occur during aging in mammals. Global hypomethylation mainly affects highly methylated repeat sequences, such as transposable elements; it is an essentially stochastic process usually referred to as “epigenetic drift.” Specific changes in DNA methylation affect various genome sequences and could be either hypomethylation or hypermethylation, but the prevailing tendencies are hypermethylation of promoter sequences associated with CpG islands and hypomethylation of CpG poor genes. Methylation levels of multiple CpG sites display a strong correlation to age common between individuals of the same species. Collectively, methylation of such CpG sites could be used as “epigenetic clocks” to predict biological age. Furthermore, the discrepancy between epigenetic and chronological ages could be predictive of all-cause mortality and multiple age-associated diseases. Random changes in DNA methylation (epigenetic drift) could also affect the aging phenotype, causing accidental changes in gene expression and increasing the transcriptional noise between cells of the same tissue. Both effects could become detrimental to tissue functioning and cause a gradual decline in organ function during aging. Strong evidence shows that epigenetic systems contribute to lifespan control in various organisms. Similar to other cell systems, the epigenome is prone to gradual degradation due to the genome damage, stressful agents and other aging factors. However, unlike mutations and many other hallmarks of aging, age-related epigenetic changes could be fully or partially reversed to a “young” state.


Epigenetic clock Aging DNA methylation Epigenetic age Epigenetic reprogramming 


Conflict of Interest

The authors confirm that this article content has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vasily V. Ashapkin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lyudmila I. Kutueva
    • 1
  • Boris F. Vanyushin
    • 1
  1. 1.Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical BiologyLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia

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