Telomere Science Library

Publications, Presentations, and Videos
about the Nobel-Prize Winning Science of Telomere Biology

How does the body know how old it is? Introducing the epigenetic clock hypothesis.

Authors: Joshua J. Mitteldorf
Published: 10/14/2014, Interdisciplinary topics in gerontology


Animals and plants have biological clocks that help to regulate circadian cycles, seasonal rhythms, growth, development and sexual maturity. If aging is not a stochastic process of attrition but is centrally orchestrated, it is reasonable to suspect that the timing of senescence is also influenced by one or more biological clocks. Evolutionary reasoning first articulated by G. Williams suggests that multiple, redundant clocks might influence organismal aging. Some aging clocks that have been proposed include the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the hypothalamus, involution of the thymus, and cellular senescence. Cellular senescence, mediated by telomere attrition, is in a class by itself, having recently been validated as a primary regulator of aging. Gene expression is known to change in characteristic ways with age, and in particular DNA methylation changes in age-related ways. Herein, I propose a new candidate for an aging clock, based on epigenetics and the state of chromosome methylation, particularly in stem cells. If validated, this mechanism would present a challenging but not impossible target for medical intervention.

2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.
PubMed Full Text