An international study 13 years in the making demonstrates for the first time that degradation in the way DNA is organized and regulated — known as epigenetics — can drive aging in an organism, independently of changes to the genetic code itself.
The work shows that a breakdown in epigenetic information causes mice to age and that restoring the integrity of the epigenome reverses those signs of aging.
Findings are published online Jan. 12 in Cell.
“We believe ours is the first study to show epigenetic change as a primary driver of aging in mammals,” said the paper’s senior author, David Sinclair, professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research.
The team’s extensive series of experiments provide long-awaited confirmation that DNA changes are not the only, or even the main, cause of aging. Rather, the findings show, chemical and structural changes to chromatin — the complex of DNA and proteins that forms chromosomes — fuel aging without altering the genetic code itself.