Longevity is a topic arouses extensive discussions. From ancient monarch to modern scientists, people are enthusiastic in trying to find the secrets behind longevity. So far, a well accepted notion is that human longevity is a rather complicated phenomenon involving both genetic and environmental factors, i.e., family history, genetic background, personal living and dieting habits, exercise routine, spiritual condition, living environments, etc.
Although in the past decade, the discoveries of a number of genes, e.g. Protein DAF-2 (daf-2), Protein DAF-16 (daf-16) and PROTEIN SIR-2 (sir-2), suggesting the existence of longevity genes, the genetic variation may can only explain 20–30% contribution to human longevity, nor may explain the low incidence of age-related diseases in centenarians and their offspring.
Given these circumstances and the sophistication of longevity, it is reasonable to assume that epigenetic modification, such as DNA methylation, may play roles in increasing human lifespan. Therefore, recently, by collaborating with Beijing Genome Institute at Shenzhen, the research team of Dr. KONG Qingpeng at Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, obtained the genome-wide landscapes of DNA methylation of four female healthy centenarians and four ethnicity matched middle-aged individuals from four different provinces of China.
In this study, 626 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were observed between both centenarians and the controls. More importantly, genes with these DMRs were enriched in age-related diseases, including type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. And this pattern remained stable when the methylation profiles of Caucasian centenarians were included, even though the genetic background of Caucasian is quite different with Chinese.
These findings indicate both the existence of a large number of DMRs between the centenarians and younger control subjects, and the crucial roles they play in regulating the genes, especially the ones that show susceptibility to the age-related diseases. These observations echo with the the ability of centenarians in escaping or delaying the age-related diseases.
In summary, this recent study suggests that suppressing the disease-related genes via the epigenetic modification is likely an important contributor in human longevity. The main findings have been published on Plos One (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0120388).
(By Su-Qing Liu)
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