Insufficient DNA methylation affects healthy aging and promotes age-related health problems

Clin Epigenetics. 2011 Aug;2(2):349-60. doi: 10.1007/s13148-011-0042-6. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


DNA methylation plays an integral role in development and aging through epigenetic regulation of genome function. DNA methyltransferase 1 (Dnmt1) is the most prevalent DNA methyltransferase that maintains genomic methylation stability. To further elucidate the function of Dnmt1 in aging and age-related diseases, we exploited the Dnmt1+/- mouse model to investigate how Dnmt1 haploinsufficiency impacts the aging process by assessing the changes of several major aging phenotypes. We confirmed that Dnmt1 haploinsufficiency indeed decreases DNA methylation as a result of reduced Dnmt1 expression. To assess the effect of Dnmt1 haploinsufficiency on general body composition, we performed dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry analysis and showed that reduced Dnmt1 activity decreased bone mineral density and body weight, but with no significant impact on mortality or body fat content. Using behavioral tests, we demonstrated that Dnmt1 haploinsufficiency impairs learning and memory functions in an age-dependent manner. Taken together, our findings point to the interesting likelihood that reduced genomic methylation activity adversely affects the healthy aging process without altering survival and mortality. Our studies demonstrated that cognitive functions of the central nervous system are modulated by Dnmt1 activity and genomic methylation, highlighting the significance of the original epigenetic hypothesis underlying memory coding and function.