Distinct DNA methylation changes highly correlated with chronological age in the human brain

Hum Mol Genet. 2011 Mar 15;20(6):1164-72. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddq561. Epub 2011 Jan 7.


Methylation at CpG sites is a critical epigenetic modification in mammals. Altered DNA methylation has been suggested to be a central mechanism in development, some disease processes and cellular senescence. Quantifying the extent and identity of epigenetic changes in the aging process is therefore potentially important for understanding longevity and age-related diseases. In the current study, we have examined DNA methylation at >27,000 CpG sites throughout the human genome, in frontal cortex, temporal cortex, pons and cerebellum from 387 human donors between the ages of 1 and 102 years. We identify CpG loci that show a highly significant, consistent correlation between DNA methylation and chronological age. The majority of these loci are within CpG islands and there is a positive correlation between age and DNA methylation level. Lastly, we show that the CpG sites where the DNA methylation level is significantly associated with age are physically close to genes involved in DNA binding and regulation of transcription. This suggests that specific age-related DNA methylation changes may have quite a broad impact on gene expression in the human brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult