Psychosocial stress and epigenetic aging

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2020;150:107-128. doi: 10.1016/bs.irn.2019.10.020. Epub 2019 Nov 20.


Aging is the single most important risk factor for diseases that are currently the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. However, there is considerable inter-individual variability in risk for aging-related disease, and studies suggest that biological age can be influenced by multiple factors, including exposure to psychosocial stress. Among markers of biological age that can be affected by stress, the present article focuses on the so-called measures of epigenetic aging: DNA methylation-based age predictors that are measured in a range of tissues, including the brain, and can predict lifespan and healthspan. We review evidence linking exposure to diverse types of psychosocial stress, including early-life stress, cumulative stressful experiences, and low socioeconomic status, with accelerated epigenetic aging as a putative mediator of the effects of psychosocial environment on health and disease. The chapter also discusses methodological differences that may contribute to discordant findings across studies to date and plausible mechanisms that may underlie the effects of stress on the aging epigenome. Future studies examining the effects of adversity on epigenetic and other indicators of biological weathering may provide important insights into the pathogenesis of aging-related disease states.

Keywords: Aging; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Psychosocial stress; Socioeconomic status.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • Child
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Social Class*
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Young Adult