Longitudinal study of epigenetic aging and its relationship with brain aging and cognitive skills in young adulthood

Mareckova K, Pacinkova A, Marecek R, Sebejova L, Izakovicova Holla L, Klanova J, Brazdil M, Nikolova YS.

Front Aging Neurosci. 2023 Aug 1;15:1215957. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2023.1215957. PMID:37593374; PMCID: PMC10427722.


21 Aug 2023

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Introduction: The proportion of older adults within society is sharply increasing and a better understanding of how we age starts to be critical. However, given the paucity of longitudinal studies with both neuroimaging and epigenetic data, it remains largely unknown whether the speed of the epigenetic clock changes over the life course and whether any such changes are proportional to changes in brain aging and cognitive skills. To fill these knowledge gaps, we conducted a longitudinal study of a prenatal birth cohort, studied epigenetic aging across adolescence and young adulthood, and evaluated its relationship with brain aging and cognitive outcomes.

Methods: DNA methylation was assessed using the Illumina EPIC Platform in adolescence, early and late 20 s, DNA methylation age was estimated using Horvath's epigenetic clock, and epigenetic age gap (EpiAGE) was calculated as DNA methylation age residualized for batch, chronological age and the proportion of epithelial cells. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was acquired in both the early 20 s and late 20 s using the same 3T Prisma MRI scanner and brain age was calculated using the Neuroanatomical Age Prediction using R (NAPR) platform. Cognitive skills were assessed using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) in the late 20 s.

Results: The EpiAGE in adolescence, the early 20 s, and the late 20 s were positively correlated (r = 0.34-0.47), suggesting that EpiAGE is a relatively stable characteristic of an individual. Further, a faster pace of aging between the measurements was positively correlated with EpiAGE at the end of the period (r = 0.48-0.77) but negatively correlated with EpiAGE at the earlier time point (r = -0.42 to -0.55), suggesting a compensatory mechanism where late matures might be catching up with the early matures. Finally, higher positive EpiAGE showed small (Adj R2 = 0.03) but significant relationships with a higher positive brain age gap in all participants and lower full-scale IQ in young adult women in the late 20 s.

Discussion: We conclude that the EpiAGE is a relatively stable characteristic of an individual across adolescence and early adulthood, but that it shows only a small relationship with accelerated brain aging and a women-specific relationship with worse performance IQ.

Keywords: IQ; brain age; epigenetic age; longitudinal; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

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