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9 hallmarks of aging: Epigenetic Alterations


In the fascinating journey to understand the aging process, scientists have identified nine key factors that contribute to our biological clocks ticking forward. These “hallmarks of aging” offer a framework to explore why and how we age. In our ongoing series, we turn our focus to one of these intriguing hallmarks: epigenetic alterations.

Epigenetics involves changes in our genetic expression that occur without altering the DNA sequence itself. Think of your DNA as a massive library. Not every book (gene) is open at the same time; some are actively being read (expressed), while others remain closed (silent). Epigenetic alterations are like changing the library’s layout or rules—modifying which books get read more often or which stay closed, but without adding or removing any books.

As we age, these epigenetic changes accumulate, influenced by various factors like lifestyle, environment, and disease. These changes can affect how our cells function, potentially leading to age-related decline and diseases. For example, genes that promote youthful cell function may become silenced over time, while those contributing to inflammation or cancer may become more active.

Understanding epigenetic alterations is crucial because, unlike our fixed DNA sequence, epigenetic changes are potentially reversible. This opens up exciting possibilities for anti-aging therapies. By targeting these modifications, we might find ways to “reset” our genetic expression to a more youthful state, thus counteracting some aging processes.

The study of epigenetic alterations in aging is not just an academic pursuit. It holds the promise of revolutionary interventions for enhancing healthspan, the period of life spent in good health. As researchers continue to unravel the complexities of epigenetics, we edge closer to translating this knowledge into tangible benefits, potentially offering everyone a chance at a longer, healthier life. Stay tuned as we explore more hallmarks of aging in this series, each bringing us one step closer to understanding the enigma of aging.

Reference: López-Otín C, Blasco MA, Partridge L, Serrano M, Kroemer G. The hallmarks of aging. Cell. 2013;153(6):1194-1217. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2013.05.039