Exploring the Relationship Between Perceived Stress and Epigenetic Aging in Older Adults

The relationship between epigenetic aging, perceived stress and old age

Also, epigenetic modifications were suggested as a possible link between adverse childhood experience and mortality, as well as a higher morbidity burden later in life [32]. This link may be due to health-adverse mechanisms (activated by high levels of anxiety or depression) associated with adverse childhood experience [33]. In some studies, DNAmAA was associated with some of these coping mechanisms, including smoking, alcohol abuse, and high BMI due to unhealthy eating habits. These results have not been replicated in all studies [37,38.39] (reviewed by ref. [40]).

In previous studies, which examined the relationship between DNAmAA, stress, and low socioeconomic status, stress was operationalized as low SES [41,42], childhood trauma [26], racial prejudice [46], or exposure violence [47]. Many studies have focused on DNAm age changes during childhood, as epigenetic changes are known to occur more frequently in this period [29].

This work, on the other hand, focuses on older age. It was found that this is the second most vulnerable period in terms of epigenetics in a person’s life [29]. There is a possibility that repeated psychological stressors can have cumulative effects on the epigenome, as epigenetic modifications persist even after the psychological stimuli has stopped. We analyzed the relationship between stress levels (measured using Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) [48]), and several DNAm-based age estimators, including The 7-CpG Clock [49], Horvath’s clocks [50], Hannum’s clocks [51], PhenoAge[34], GrimAge[52] were all used to estimate the age of 1,100 older individuals. The PSS is a well-established marker for perceived stress [48], but to our knowledge, it has never been studied in relation to epigenetic aging. We were able replicate established associations with perceived stresses, but none of the epigenetic clocks examined in this study was associated with stress perception.


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