Eleven Telomere, Epigenetic Clock, and Biomarker-Composite Quantifications of Biological Aging: Do They Measure the Same Thing?

Daniel W. Belsky, Terrie E. Moffitt, Alan A. Cohen, David L. Corcoran, Morgan E. Levine, Joseph A. Prinz, Jonathan Schaefer, Karen Sugden, Benjamin Williams, Richie Poulton, Avshalom Caspi

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Abstract

The geroscience hypothesis posits that therapies to slow biological processes of aging can prevent disease and extend healthy years of life. To test such "geroprotective" therapies in humans, outcome measures are needed that can assess extension of disease-free life span. This need has spurred development of different methods to quantify biological aging. But different methods have not been systematically compared in the same humans. We implemented 7 methods to quantify biological aging using repeated-measures physiological and genomic data in 964 middle-aged humans in the Dunedin Study (New Zealand; persons born 1972-1973). We studied 11 measures in total: telomere-length and erosion, 3 epigenetic-clocks and their ticking rates, and 3 biomarker-composites. Contrary to expectation, we found low agreement between different measures of biological aging. We next compared associations between biological aging measures and outcomes that geroprotective therapies seek to modify: physical functioning, cognitive decline, and subjective signs of aging, including aged facial appearance. The 71-cytosine-phosphate-guanine epigenetic clock and biomarker composites were consistently related to these aging-related outcomes. However, effect sizes were modest. Results suggested that various proposed approaches to quantifying biological aging may not measure the same aspects of the aging process. Further systematic evaluation and refinement of measures of biological aging is needed to furnish outcomes for geroprotector trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1220-1230
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Volume187
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

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Keywords

  • biological aging
  • epigenetic clock
  • geroscience
  • telomere

Cite this

Belsky, D. W., Moffitt, T. E., Cohen, A. A., Corcoran, D. L., Levine, M. E., Prinz, J. A., Schaefer, J., Sugden, K., Williams, B., Poulton, R., & Caspi, A. (2018). Eleven Telomere, Epigenetic Clock, and Biomarker-Composite Quantifications of Biological Aging: Do They Measure the Same Thing? American journal of epidemiology, 187(6), 1220-1230. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwx346