Patterns of Aging Biomarkers, Mortality, and Damaging Mutations Illuminate the Beginning of Aging and Causes of Early-Life Mortality

Cell Rep. 2019 Dec 24;29(13):4276-4284.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.11.091.


An increase in the probability of death has been a defining feature of aging, yet human perinatal mortality starts high and decreases with age. Previous evolutionary models suggested that organismal aging begins after the onset of reproduction. However, we find that mortality and incidence of diseases associated with aging follow a U-shaped curve with the minimum before puberty, whereas quantitative biomarkers of aging, including somatic mutations and DNA methylation, do not, revealing that aging starts early but is masked by early-life mortality. Moreover, our genetic analyses point to the contribution of damaging mutations to early mortality. We propose that mortality patterns are governed, in part, by negative selection against damaging mutations in early life, manifesting after the corresponding genes are first expressed. Deconvolution of mortality patterns suggests that deleterious changes rather than mortality are the defining characteristic of aging and that aging begins in very early life.

Keywords: age-related; aging; cancer; clock; damage; incidence; lifespan; mortality; mutations; selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / genetics
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Perinatal Mortality
  • Reproduction / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Survival Analysis


  • Biomarkers