Researchers Decode Immune System's Role in Epigenetic Clocks

When questioned, "What is your age?" The majority of people gauge by counting their birthdays. However, researchers have created epigenetic clocks to determine the true age of the human body. These clocks, which are at the forefront of aging research, attempt to determine the biological age, which is a true indicator of the level of health, rather than just the calendar age.

Image Credit: wei-ya2019/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: wei-ya2019/Shutterstock.com

However, scientists still do not fully know how they function. It is similar to owning an advanced device without a handbook, as a recent NYT article noted. The underlying mechanisms of human bodies, particularly the immune system, are important, yet the specifics are still unknown.

Scientists at Dartmouth Cancer Center have started the process of changing that with new research. Under the direction of Ze Zhang, PhD, Lucas Salas, MD, MPH, PhD, and Brock Christensen, PhD, the team is delving deeply into the immune system to discover how various immune cells alter epigenetic clocks in an effort to improve their precision and dependability.

The scientists discovered the relationship between the immune system and biological age. The study was published in Aging Cell.

Researchers were able to look more closely at the relationship between immune cell profiles and biological age estimations from epigenetic clocks using new methods they had created for immune profiling. Specifically, the equilibrium between memory and naïve immune cells appears to either speed up or slow down biological aging. The study's major innovations are as follows:

  • Providing previously unattainable immune cell granularity for the computation of intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (IEAA), which will enable a far more thorough understanding of the aging process at the cellular level.
  • Comparing immune cells and aging more directly than the conventional Extrinsic Epigenetic Age Acceleration (EEAA) approach, which only takes a small subset of immune cells into account.
  • Shedding light on the ways in which distinct subsets of immune cells contribute to epigenetic aging and offering insights that have been overlooked in earlier studies, therefore contributing a new level of comprehension to the biological interpretation of epigenetic clocks.

Our findings open new doors to a much more detailed understanding of the relationships between the immune system and biological age at a cellular level, and the internal and external factors that influence how quickly we age.” 

Ze Zhang, Study Lead Author, Department of Epidemiology, Geisel School of Medicine

These results have broad ramifications since they provide fresh perspectives on the aging process and possible avenues for medical therapies. To calculate biological age using epigenetic clocks, future research will concentrate on merging ground-breaking discoveries that connect immune cell composition to epigenetic aging.

This will represent a substantial change in how humans measure biological age and guarantee a more thorough and precise evaluation. Future studies will examine the functions of distinct immune cells in a range of clinical contexts, especially in relation to distinct cancer types.

The team's findings could result in more focused and efficient cancer treatments, a better understanding of how cancer originates, and innovative strategies for precision cancer prevention by revealing the intricate roles of immune cells altered by epigenetic aging.

Zhang concludes, “This exciting trajectory can transform our understanding of disease and aging and open new possibilities in precision prevention, precision medicine, and targeted treatments, and also, with these steps, we move closer to a future where predicting and preventing diseases like cancer becomes more precise and effective, guided by the deepened knowledge of biological age and the immune system.”

Source:
Journal reference:

Zhang, Z., et.al., (2023). Deciphering the role of immune cell composition in epigenetic age acceleration: Insights from cell‐type deconvolution applied to human blood epigenetic clocks. Aging Cell. doi.org/10.1111/acel.14071.

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