Background: Stroke onset in women occurs later in life compared with men. The underlying mechanisms of these differences have not been established. Epigenetic clocks, based on DNA methylation (DNAm) profiles, are the most accurate biological age estimate. Epigenetic age acceleration (EAA) measures indicate whether an individual is biologically younger or older than expected. Our aim was to analyze whether sexual dichotomy at age of stroke onset is conditioned by EAA.
Methods: We used 2 DNAm datasets from whole blood samples of case-control genetic studies of ischemic stroke (IS), a discovery cohort of 374 IS patients (N women=163, N men=211), from GRECOS (Genotyping Recurrence Risk of Stroke) and SEDMAN (Dabigatran Study in the Early Phase of Stroke, New Neuroimaging Markers and Biomarkers) studies and a replication cohort of 981 IS patients (N women=411, N men=570) from BASICMAR register. We compared chronological age, 2 DNAm-based biomarkers of aging and intrinsic and extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration EAA (IEAA and extrinsic EAA, respectively), in IS as well as in individual IS etiologic subtypes. Horvath and Hannum epigenetic clocks were used to assess the aging rate. A proteomic study using the SOMAScan multiplex assay was performed on 26 samples analyzing 1305 proteins.
Results: Women present lower Hannum-extrinsic EAA values, whereas men have higher Hannum-extrinsic EAA values (women=-0.64, men=1.24, P=1.34×10-2); the same tendency was observed in the second cohort (women=-0.57, men=0.79, P=0.02). These differences seemed to be specific to cardioembolic and undetermined stroke subtypes. Additionally, 42 blood protein levels were associated with Hannum-extrinsic EAA (P<0.05), belonging to the immune effector process (P=1.54×10-6) and platelet degranulation (P<8.74×10-6) pathways.
Conclusions: This study shows that sex-specific underlying biological mechanisms associated with stroke onset could be due to differences in biological age acceleration between men and women.
Keywords: DNA methylation; aging; ischemic stroke; men; women.