Background: Altered DNA methylation patterns represent an attractive mechanism for understanding the phenotypic changes associated with human aging. Several studies have described global and complex age-related methylation changes, but their structural and functional significance has remained largely unclear.
Results: We have used transcriptome sequencing to characterize age-related gene expression changes in the human epidermis. The results revealed a significant set of 75 differentially expressed genes with a strong functional relationship to skin homeostasis. We then used whole-genome bisulfite sequencing to identify age-related methylation changes at single-base resolution. Data analysis revealed no global aberrations, but rather highly localized methylation changes, particularly in promoter and enhancer regions that were associated with altered transcriptional activity.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the core developmental program of human skin is stably maintained through the aging process and that aging is associated with a limited destabilization of the epigenome at gene regulatory elements.