Tick tock, tick tock: Mouse culture and tissue aging captured by an epigenetic clock

Aging Cell. 2022 Feb;21(2):e13553. doi: 10.1111/acel.13553. Epub 2022 Feb 1.


Aging is associated with dramatic changes to DNA methylation (DNAm), although the causes and consequences of such alterations are unknown. Our ability to experimentally uncover mechanisms of epigenetic aging will be greatly enhanced by our ability to study and manipulate these changes using in vitro models. However, it remains unclear whether the changes elicited by cells in culture can serve as a model of what is observed in aging tissues in vivo. To test this, we serially passaged mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) and assessed changes in DNAm at each time point via reduced representation bisulfite sequencing. By developing a measure that tracked cellular aging in vitro, we tested whether it tracked physiological aging in various mouse tissues and whether anti-aging interventions modulate this measure. Our measure, termed CultureAGE, was shown to strongly increase with age when examined in multiple tissues (liver, lung, kidney, blood, and adipose). As a control, we confirmed that the measure was not a marker of cellular senescence, suggesting that it reflects a distinct yet progressive cellular aging phenomena that can be induced in vitro. Furthermore, we demonstrated slower epigenetic aging in animals undergoing caloric restriction and a resetting of our measure in lung and kidney fibroblasts when re-programmed to iPSCs. Enrichment and clustering analysis implicated EED and Polycomb group (PcG) factors as potentially important chromatin regulators in translational culture aging phenotypes. Overall, this study supports the concept that physiologically relevant aging changes can be induced in vitro and used to uncover mechanistic insights into epigenetic aging.

Keywords: DNA methylation; aging; calorie restriction; epigenome; in vitro techniques; longevity; oxidative stress; replicative senescence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics
  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics
  • Fibroblasts*
  • Mice