The Association Between Epigenetic Clocks and Physical Functioning in Older Women: A 3-Year Follow-up

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2022 Aug 12;77(8):1569-1576. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glab270.


Background: Epigenetic clocks are composite markers developed to predict chronological age or mortality risk from DNA methylation (DNAm) data. The present study investigated the associations between 4 epigenetic clocks (Horvath's and Hannum's DNAmAge and DNAm GrimAge and PhenoAge) and physical functioning during a 3-year follow-up.

Method: We studied 63- to 76-year-old women (N = 413) from the Finnish Twin Study on Aging. DNAm was measured from blood samples at baseline. Age acceleration (AgeAccel), that is, discrepancy between chronological age and DNAm age, was determined as residuals from linear model. Physical functioning was assessed under standardized laboratory conditions at baseline and at follow-up. A cross-sectional analysis was performed with path models, and a longitudinal analysis was conducted with repeated measures linear models. A nonrandom missing data analysis was performed.

Results: In comparison to the other clocks, GrimAgeAccel was more strongly associated with physical functioning. At baseline, GrimAgeAccel was associated with lower performance in the Timed Up and Go (TUG) test and the 6-minute walk test. At follow-up, significant associations were observed between GrimAgeAccel and lowered performance in the TUG, 6-minute and 10-m walk tests, and knee extension and ankle plantar flexion strength tests.

Conclusions: The DNAm GrimAge, a novel estimate of biological aging, associated with decline in physical functioning over the 3-year follow-up in older women. However, associations between chronological age and physical function phenotypes followed similar pattern. Current epigenetic clocks do not provide strong benefits in predicting the decline of physical functioning at least during a rather short follow-up period and restricted age range.

Keywords: Biological aging; DNA methylation; Epigenetic clock; Physical functioning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans