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Epigenetic clocks predict prevalence and incidence of leading causes of death and disease burden

By Robert F Hillary, Anna J Stevenson, Daniel L. McCartney, Archie Campbell, Rosie Walker, David M Howard, Craig Ritchie, Steve Horvath, Caroline Hayward, Andrew M McIntosh, David J Porteous, Ian J Deary, Kathryn L Evans, Riccardo E Marioni

Posted 01 Feb 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.01.31.928648

Individuals of the same chronological age display different rates of biological ageing. A number of measures of biological age have been proposed which harness age-related changes in DNA methylation profiles. These include methylation-based predictors of chronological age (HorvathAge, HannumAge), all-cause mortality (DNAm PhenoAge, DNAm GrimAge) and telomere length (DNAm Telomere Length). In this study, we test the association between these epigenetic markers of ageing and the prevalence and incidence of the leading causes of disease burden and mortality in high-income countries. Furthermore, we test the clocks′ relationships with phenotypic measures associated with these conditions, including spirometric and biochemical traits. We carry out these analyses in 9,537 individuals from the Generation Scotland: Scottish Family Health Study. We find that DNAm GrimAge outperforms other epigenetic clocks in its associations with self-report disease prevalence and related clinical traits. DNAm GrimAge associates with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) prevalence (Odds Ratio = 3.29, P = 3.0 x 10-4) and pulmonary spirometry tests (β = [-0.10 to -0.15], P = [1.4 x 10-4 to 1.4 x 10-6]) at study baseline after adjusting for possibly confounding risk factors including alcohol, body mass index, deprivation, education and smoking. After adjusting for these confounding risk factors, DNAm GrimAge, DNAm PhenoAge and DNAm Telomere Length, measured at study baseline, predict incidence of ICD-10-coded disease states including COPD, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease after thirteen years of follow-up (Hazard Ratios = [0.80 (telomere length) to 2.19 (GrimAge)], P = [9.9 x 10-4, 1.9 x 10-14]). Our data show that despite accounting for several possible confounding variables, epigenetic markers of ageing predict incidence of common disease. This may have significant implications for their potential utility in clinical settings to complement gold-standard methods of clinical assessment and management.

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