Accelerated epigenetic aging in adolescents from low-income households is associated with altered development of brain structures

Jacqueline Hoare, Dan J. Stein, Sarah J. Heany, Jean Paul Fouche, Nicole Phillips, Sebnem Er, Landon Myer, Heather J. Zar, Steve Horvath, Andrew J. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The relationship between cognitive performance, macro and microstructural brain anatomy and accelerated aging as measured by a highly accurate epigenetic biomarker of aging known as the epigenetic clock in healthy adolescents has not been studied. Healthy adolescents enrolled in the Cape Town Adolescent Antiretroviral Cohort Study were studied cross sectionally. The Illumina Infinium Methylation EPIC array was used to generate DNA methylation data from the blood samples of 44 adolescents aged 9 to 12 years old. The epigenetic clock software and method was used to estimate two measures, epigenetic age acceleration residual (AAR) and extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (EEAA). Each participant underwent neurocognitive testing, T1 structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Correlation tests were run between the two epigenetic aging measures and 10 cognitive functioning domains, to assess for differences in cognitive performance as epigenetic aging increases. In order to investigate the associations of epigenetic age acceleration on brain structure, we developed stepwise multiple regression models in R (version 3.4.3, 2017) including grey and white matter volumes, cortical thickness, and cortical surface area, as well as DTI measures of white matter microstructural integrity. In addition to negatively affecting two cognitive domains, visual memory (p =.026) and visual spatial acuity (p =.02), epigenetic age acceleration was associated with alterations of brain volumes, cortical thickness, cortical surface areas and abnormalities in neuronal microstructure in a range of regions. Stress was a significant predictor (p =.029) of AAR. Understanding the drivers of epigenetic age acceleration in adolescents could lead to valuable insights into the development of neurocognitive impairment in adolescents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1287-1298
Number of pages12
JournalMetabolic Brain Disease
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • DNA methylation
  • DTI
  • Epigenetic clock
  • MRI


Dive into the research topics of 'Accelerated epigenetic aging in adolescents from low-income households is associated with altered development of brain structures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this