Molecular and physiological manifestations and measurement of aging in humans

Aging Cell. 2017 Aug;16(4):624-633. doi: 10.1111/acel.12601. Epub 2017 May 23.


Biological aging is associated with a reduction in the reparative and regenerative potential in tissues and organs. This reduction manifests as a decreased physiological reserve in response to stress (termed homeostenosis) and a time-dependent failure of complex molecular mechanisms that cumulatively create disorder. Aging inevitably occurs with time in all organisms and emerges on a molecular, cellular, organ, and organismal level with genetic, epigenetic, and environmental modulators. Individuals with the same chronological age exhibit differential trajectories of age-related decline, and it follows that we should assess biological age distinctly from chronological age. In this review, we outline mechanisms of aging with attention to well-described molecular and cellular hallmarks and discuss physiological changes of aging at the organ-system level. We suggest methods to measure aging with attention to both molecular biology (e.g., telomere length and epigenetic marks) and physiological function (e.g., lung function and echocardiographic measurements). Finally, we propose a framework to integrate these molecular and physiological data into a composite score that measures biological aging in humans. Understanding the molecular and physiological phenomena that drive the complex and multifactorial processes underlying the variable pace of biological aging in humans will inform how researchers assess and investigate health and disease over the life course. This composite biological age score could be of use to researchers seeking to characterize normal, accelerated, and exceptionally successful aging as well as to assess the effect of interventions aimed at modulating human aging.

Keywords: aging; biological age; biomarkers; score; senescence.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cellular Senescence / drug effects
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Heart Function Tests
  • Humans
  • Kidney Function Tests
  • Metformin / pharmacology
  • Organ Specificity
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Telomere Homeostasis


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Metformin