Centenarians represent a rare phenotype appearing in roughly 10-20 per 100,000 persons in most industrialized countries but as high as 40-50 per 100,000 persons in Okinawa, Japan. Siblings of centenarians in Okinawa have been found to have cumulative survival advantages such that female centenarian siblings have a 2.58-fold likelihood and male siblings a 5.43-fold likelihood (versus their birth cohorts) of reaching the age of 90 years. This is indicative of a strong familial component to longevity. Centenarians may live such extraordinarily long lives in large part due to genetic variations that either affect the rate of aging and/or have genes that result in decreased susceptibility to age-associated diseases. Some of the most promising candidate genes appear to be those involved in regulatory pathways such as insulin signaling, immunoinflammatory response, stress resistance or cardiovascular function. Although gene variants with large beneficial effects have been suggested to exist, only APOE, an important regulator of lipoproteins has been consistently associated with a longer human lifespan across numerous populations. As longevity is a very complex trait, several issues challenge our ability to identify its genetic influences, such as control for environmental confounders across time, the lack of precise phenotypes of aging and longevity, statistical power, study design and availability of appropriate study populations. Genetic studies on the Okinawan population suggest that Okinawans are a genetically distinct group that has several characteristics of a founder population, including less genetic diversity, and clustering of specific gene variants, some of which may be related to longevity. Further work on this population and other genetic isolates would be of significant interest to the genetics of human longevity.
Keywords: Okinawa; centenarians; genetics; longevity; longevity genes.