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A meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies of epigenetic age acceleration

By Jude Gibson, Tom C Russ, T-K Clarke, David M Howard, Kathryn L Evans, Rosie Walker, Mairead L. Bermingham, Stewart W Morris, Archie Campbell, Caroline Hayward, Alison D Murray, David J. Porteous, Steve Horvath, Ake T Lu, Andrew M McIntosh, Heather Whalley, Riccardo E Marioni

Posted 21 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/585299 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008104)

'Epigenetic age acceleration' is a valuable biomarker of ageing, predictive of morbidity and mortality, but for which the underlying biological mechanisms are not well established. Two commonly used measures, derived from DNA methylation, are Horvath-based (Horvath-EAA) and Hannum-based (Hannum-EAA) epigenetic age acceleration. We conducted genome-wide association studies of Horvath-EAA and Hannum-EAA in 13,493 unrelated individuals of European ancestry, to elucidate genetic determinants of differential epigenetic ageing. We identified ten independent SNPs associated with Horvath-EAA, five of which are novel. We also report 21 Horvath-EAA-associated genes including several involved in metabolism (NHLRC, TPMT) and immune system pathways (TRIM59, EDARADD). GWAS of Hannum-EAA identified one associated variant (rs1005277), and implicated 12 genes including several involved in innate immune system pathways (UBE2D3, MANBA, TRIM46), with metabolic functions (UBE2D3, MANBA), or linked to lifespan regulation (CISD2). Both measures had nominal inverse genetic correlations with father’s age at death, a rough proxy for lifespan. Nominally significant genetic correlations between Hannum-EAA and lifestyle factors including smoking behaviours and education support the hypothesis that Hannum-based epigenetic ageing is sensitive to variations in environment, whereas Horvath-EAA is a more stable cellular ageing process. We identified novel SNPs and genes associated with epigenetic age acceleration, and highlighted differences in the genetic architecture of Horvath-based and Hannum-based epigenetic ageing measures. Understanding the biological mechanisms underlying individual differences in the rate of epigenetic ageing could help explain different trajectories of age-related decline.

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