Accelerating research on biological aging and mental health: Current challenges and future directions

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Aug;106:293-311. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.04.004. Epub 2019 Apr 5.


Aging is associated with complex biological changes that can be accelerated, slowed, or even temporarily reversed by biological and non-biological factors. This article focuses on the link between biological aging, psychological stressors, and mental illness. Rather than comprehensively reviewing this rapidly expanding field, we highlight challenges in this area of research and propose potential strategies to accelerate progress in this field. This effort requires the interaction of scientists across disciplines - including biology, psychiatry, psychology, and epidemiology; and across levels of analysis that emphasize different outcome measures - functional capacity, physiological, cellular, and molecular. Dialogues across disciplines and levels of analysis naturally lead to new opportunities for discovery but also to stimulating challenges. Some important challenges consist of 1) establishing the best objective and predictive biological age indicators or combinations of indicators, 2) identifying the basis for inter-individual differences in the rate of biological aging, and 3) examining to what extent interventions can delay, halt or temporarily reverse aging trajectories. Discovering how psychological states influence biological aging, and vice versa, has the potential to create novel and exciting opportunities for healthcare and possibly yield insights into the fundamental mechanisms that drive human aging.

Keywords: Biological age; Brain; DNA methylation; Mitochondria; Psychopathology; Telomere length.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Mental Health
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology