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Hallmarks of Aging: Epigenetic Alterations – Article by Steve Hill

Hallmarks of Aging: Epigenetic Alterations – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: In this article, Mr. Steve Hill discusses one of the hallmarks of aging – in this case, Epigenetic Alterations. It is part of a paper published in 2013. It divides aging into a number of distinct categories (“hallmarks”) of damage to explain how the aging process works and how it causes age-related diseases [1]. This article was originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF).

                        ~ Kenneth Alum, Director of Publication, U.S. Transhumanist Party, October 18, 2017

What are epigenetic alterations?

The DNA in every one of our cells is identical, with only small variations, so why do our various organs and tissues look so different, and how do cells know what to become?

DNA is modified by the addition of epigenetic information that changes the pattern of gene expression in a cell, suppressing or enhancing the expression of certain genes in a cell as the situation demands. This is how a cell in the liver knows that it needs to develop into a liver cell; the epigenetic instructions make sure that it is given the right orders to become the correct cell type.

At a basic level, these epigenetic instructions make sure that the genes needed to develop into a liver cell are turned on, while the instructions specific to other types of cells are turned off. Imagine if a heart cell was given the wrong instructions and became a bone cell!

How epigenetic alterations accumulate

The aging process can cause alterations to our epigenome, which can lead to alterations in gene expression that can potentially change and ultimately compromise cell function. As an example, epigenetic alterations of the immune system can harm activation and suppress immune cells, thus causing our immune system to fail and leaving us vulnerable to pathogens.

Inflammation is implicated in epigenetic alterations, and studies show that caloric restriction slows the rate of these epigenetic changes [2]. Metabolism and epigenetic alterations are closely linked with inflammation, facilitating a feedback loop leading to ever-worsening epigenetic alterations. Alterations to gene expression patterns are an important driver of the aging process. These alterations involve changes to DNA methylation patterns, histone modification, transcriptional alterations (variance in gene expression) and remodeling of chromatin (a DNA support structure that assists or impedes its transcription).

In the cell, gene expression is activated by hypomethylation (a loss of methylation) or silenced by hypermethylation (an increase of methylation) at a gene location. The aging process causes changes that reduce or increase methylation at different gene locations throughout the body. For example, some tumour suppressor genes become hypermethylated during aging, meaning that they cease functioning, which increases the risk of cancer [3]. Post-translational modifications of histones regulate gene expression by organizing the genome into active euchromatin regions, where DNA is accessible for transcription, or inactive heterochromatin regions, where DNA is compacted and less accessible for transcription. The aging process causes changes to these regions, which changes gene expression.

The aging process also causes an increase in transcriptional noise, which is the primary cause of variance in the gene expression happening between cells [4]. Researchers compared young and old tissues from several species and identified age-related transcriptional changes in the genes encoding key components of inflammatory, mitochondrial, and lysosomal degradation pathways [5].

 Finally, chromatin remodeling alters chromatin from a condensed state to a transcriptionally accessible state, allowing transcription factors and other DNA binding proteins to access DNA and control gene expression.

Conclusion

If we can find ways to reset age-related epigenetic alterations, we can potentially improve cell function, thus improving tissue and organ health.

One potential approach is the use of reprogramming factors, which reset cells to a developmental state, thus reverting epigenetic changes. We have been doing this for over a decade to create induced pluripotent stem cells, and recent work has seen a therapy based on that technique applied to living animals to reset their epigenetic alterations [6]. This reversed a number of age-related changes, and work is now proceeding with the goal of translating this to humans.

Epigenetic alterations might be considered like a program in a computer, but in this case, it is the cell, not a computer, being given instructions. Ultimately, damage causes changes that contribute to the cell moving from an efficient “program” of youth to a dysfunctional one of old age. If we can reset that program, we can potentially address this hallmark of aging, and a number of researchers are working on that right now.

 

Literature

[1] López-Otín, C., Blasco, M. A., Partridge, L., Serrano, M., & Kroemer, G. (2013). The hallmarks of aging. Cell, 153(6), 1194-1217.

[2] Maegawa, S., Lu, Y., Tahara, T., Lee, J. T., Madzo, J., Liang, S., … & Issa, J. P. J. (2017). Caloric restriction delays age-related methylation drift. Nature Communications, 8.

[3] Maegawa, S., Hinkal, G., Kim, H. S., Shen, L., Zhang, L., Zhang, J., … & Issa, J. P. J. (2010). Widespread and tissue specific age-related DNA methylation changes in mice. Genome research, 20(3), 332-340.

[4] Bahar, R., Hartmann, C. H., Rodriguez, K. A., Denny, A. D., Busuttil, R. A., Dollé, M. E., … & Vijg, J. (2006). Increased cell-to-cell variation in gene expression in ageing mouse heart. Nature, 441(7096), 1011-1014.

[5] De Magalhães, J. P., Curado, J., & Church, G. M. (2009). Meta-analysis of age-related gene expression profiles identifies common signatures of aging. Bioinformatics, 25(7), 875-881.

[6] Ocampo, A., Reddy, P., Martinez-Redondo, P., Platero-Luengo, A., Hatanaka, F., Hishida, T., … & Araoka, T. (2016). In Vivo Amelioration of Age-Associated Hallmarks by Partial Reprogramming. Cell, 167(7), 1719-1733.

 

About Steve Hill

As a scientific writer and a devoted advocate of healthy longevity technologies, Steve has provided the community with multiple educational articles, interviews, and podcasts, helping the general public to better understand aging and the means to modify its dynamics. His materials can be found at H+ Magazine, Longevity Reporter, Psychology Today, and Singularity Weblog. He is a co-author of the book Aging Prevention for All – a guide for the general public exploring evidence-based means to extend healthy life (in press).

About LIFE EXTENSION ADVOCACY FOUNDATION (LEAF)

In 2014, the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting increased healthy human lifespan through fiscally sponsoring longevity research projects and raising awareness regarding the societal benefits of life extension. In 2015 they launched Lifespan.io, the first nonprofit crowdfunding platform focused on the biomedical research of aging.

They believe that this will enable the general public to influence the pace of research directly. To date they have successfully supported four research projects aimed at investigating different processes of aging and developing therapies to treat age-related diseases.

The LEAF team organizes educational events, takes part in different public and scientific conferences, and actively engages with the public on social media in order to help disseminate this crucial information. They initiate public dialogue aimed at regulatory improvement in the fields related to rejuvenation biotechnology.

Hallmarks of Aging: Genomic Instability – Article by Steve Hill

Hallmarks of Aging: Genomic Instability – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: In this article, Mr. Steve Hill discusses one of the hallmarks of aging – in this case, Genomic Instability. This article was originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF).

~ Kenneth Alum, Director of Publication, U.S. Transhumanist Party, October 17, 2017

What is genomic instability?

The cells of your body produce a constant flow of proteins and other materials; these are built according to the blueprints contained in our DNA and are vital to cell function and survival. A large amount of information contained in the DNA is ignored during this process, and this is thought to be junk DNA, remnants of our evolutionary past that are no longer used.

However, if a part of the DNA important to cell function mutates or is damaged, the cell can experience a loss of proteostasis, in which the cell produces misfolded proteins. These misfolded proteins can be very harmful, such as when neurons in the brain produce masses of the toxic amyloid beta protein, as seen in Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, the odd dysfunctional cell is not really a huge problem; however, as we get older, an increasing number of cells succumb to this damage and begin to accumulate in tissue over time. Eventually, the number of these damaged cells reaches a point where tissue or organ function is compromised. Normally, the body removes these problem cells via a self-destruct sequence known as apoptosis, a sort of kill switch that senses the damage and destroys the cell in conjunction with the immune system.

Unfortunately, some cells evade apoptosis, taking up space in the tissue and pumping out inflammatory signals that damage the local tissue. These cells are known as senescent cells, and we will be covering them in a later Hallmarks article.

Another possible outcome of damaged DNA is cells that mutate and do not become senescent cells or destroy themselves via apoptosis. These cells continue to replicate, becoming more mutated each time they divide, and if a mutation damages the systems that regulate cell division or switches off the safety mechanisms against tumor formation, this can lead to cancer. The unchecked and rampant cell growth of cancer is probably the most well-known result of genomic instability.

How DNA damage accumulates

There are many ways for DNA to become damaged. UV rays, radiation, chemicals, and tobacco are all examples of environmental stressors that can damage the genome. Even chemotherapy agents designed to kill cancer can also potentially cause DNA damage and senescent cells, leading to later relapse [2].

Finally, even if we avoided all the external threats to our DNA, the body still damages itself. Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species produced during the operation of normal metabolism can damage both DNA and mitochondrial DNA.

Thankfully, we have evolved a robust network of repair systems and mechanisms that can repair most of this damage. We have enzymes that can detect and repair broken strands of DNA or reverse alterations made to base pairs. This repair process is not perfect, and sometimes the DNA is not repaired. This can lead to the cell replication machinery misreading the information contained in the DNA, causing a mutation.

As mutations are passed to daughter cells, the cell tries to prevent this from happening by checking DNA integrity before and after replication. Unfortunately, some cells do manage to slip through the net.

The consequences of DNA damage

A large number of age-related diseases are linked to damaged DNA or faulty DNA repair systems. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and cancer are all the result of genomic instability.

Another example are the progeric diseases. Progerias are congenital disorders that result in rapid aging-like symptoms and a dramatically shortened lifespan, with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS) probably being the most well known. The disease is caused by a defect in Lamin A, a major component of a protein scaffold on the inner edge of the nucleus called the nuclear lamina. The lamina helps organize nuclear processes, such as RNA and DNA synthesis, and lamins are responsible for supporting key proteins in the DNA repair process.

This defect leads to HGPS sufferers only living until their early 20s and developing atherosclerosis, stiff joints, hair loss and wrinkles, and other accelerated aging-like characteristics.

Conclusion

Despite the various repair systems we have evolved, our body is constantly being assaulted from exposure to environmental stressors and even damaged through its own metabolic processes. Coupled with this, our repair systems also decline in effectiveness over time, meaning that DNA damage and mutations are inevitable.

There is some evidence to suggest that caloric restriction may help combat this, but as of now, no drugs or therapies are available yet that can prevent or repair DNA damage. The good news is human trials for DNA repair are launching this year at Harvard, and Dr. David Sinclair and other researchers are also working on their own solutions.

For the time being, the best we can do is to avoid risks, such as excessive sun exposure, industrial chemicals, smoking, and, of course, staying away from radioactive waste; there are no comic-book superpowers from these mutations!

Literature

[1] López-Otín, C., Blasco, M. A., Partridge, L., Serrano, M., & Kroemer, G. (2013). The hallmarks of aging. Cell, 153(6), 1194-1217.

[2] Demaria, M., O’Leary, M. N., Chang, J., Shao, L., Liu, S., Alimirah, F., … & Alston, S. (2017). Cellular senescence promotes adverse effects of chemotherapy and cancer relapse. Cancer discovery, 7(2), 165-176.

About Steve Hill

As a scientific writer and a devoted advocate of healthy longevity technologies, Steve has provided the community with multiple educational articles, interviews, and podcasts, helping the general public to better understand aging and the means to modify its dynamics. His materials can be found at H+ Magazine, Longevity Reporter, Psychology Today, and Singularity Weblog. He is a co-author of the book Aging Prevention for All – a guide for the general public exploring evidence-based means to extend healthy life (in press).

About LIFE EXTENSION ADVOCACY FOUNDATION (LEAF)

In 2014, the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting increased healthy human lifespan through fiscally sponsoring longevity research projects and raising awareness regarding the societal benefits of life extension. In 2015 they launched Lifespan.io, the first nonprofit crowdfunding platform focused on the biomedical research of aging.

They believe that this will enable the general public to influence the pace of research directly. To date they have successfully supported four research projects aimed at investigating different processes of aging and developing therapies to treat age-related diseases.

The LEAF team organizes educational events, takes part in different public and scientific conferences, and actively engages with the public on social media in order to help disseminate this crucial information. They initiate public dialogue aimed at regulatory improvement in the fields related to rejuvenation biotechnology.

The Good Sides of Aging? – Article by Nicola Bagalà

The Good Sides of Aging? – Article by Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s Note: Nicola Bagalà in this guest article elaborates upon aging as a topic distinguished in terms of Chronological Aging and Biological Aging. This article was originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF).

~ Kenneth Alum, Director of Publication, U.S. Transhumanist Party, October 17, 2017

Sometimes, and especially in articles aimed at mitigating people’s fear of aging, it is said that aging doesn’t come just with downsides, such as frailty and diseases, but also with upsides — for example, wisdom and a long life experience.

It is often subtly implied that these two very different aspects are two sides of the same coin, that you can’t have one without the other, and perhaps even that the ill health of old age is a fair price to pay for the benefits that also come with it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Setting the record straight

There are plenty of good reasons to be afraid of aging, because the diseases and disabilities it causes are very real and far from being observed only in exceptional cases. It would be foolish not to fear cancer, for example, because it is an extremely serious and often fatal condition; in the same way, and for the same reasons, it is foolish not to fear aging; perhaps, an even stronger fear is justified, because aging can and does give rise to many diseases, including cancer itself.

There’s nothing wrong with fearing aging, because it may help us steer clear from its inherent dangers, just like the fear of any other harmful thing keeps us away from it. This is true so long as by ‘aging’ we mean biological aging, which is not at all the same as chronological aging. It is very important to draw a line between the two so that we don’t end up accepting the downsides of the former, which are neither necessary nor sufficient to enjoy the benefits of the latter.

What’s the difference?

Chronological aging is a rather fancy term to indicate a very mundane thing, namely the passing of time. For as long as time will keep passing, everything will age chronologically. This is obviously a good thing because if time did not pass, the universe would stand still and nothing at all, including ourselves, would ever happen.

However, it is easy to see how chronological and biological aging are not the same thing by means of a simple observation: Although time runs essentially uniformly everywhere on Earth, different life forms have different health- and lifespans. If time passes at the same rate for me and for a cat, and yet I’m (biologically) old at age 80 while a cat is (biologically) old already at age 15, clearly there must be something else than just the passing of time that accounts for this discrepancy.

This ‘something else’ is metabolism—the intricate set of chemical reactions the bodies of living creatures perform on a daily basis for the very purpose of staying alive. As we have discussed in other articles, what we call biological aging is really just a process of damage accumulation; this damage, which eventually leads to pathologies, is caused by metabolism itself, and therefore a faster metabolism means faster aging. Different species have different metabolic rates; as a rule of thumb, the smaller the species, the faster its metabolism and thus its aging, leading to shorter health- and lifespan. This is, in a nutshell, why a cat ages faster than I do.

As a confirmation of this fact, one may observe that species in a regimen of caloric restriction tend to live longer (sometimes much longer) than their normal lifespan, and the insurgence of age-related diseases is delayed accordingly: A lower caloric intake causes metabolism to slow down; consequently, the aging process follows suit.

Interestingly, some lucky species, the so-called negligibly senescent organisms, don’t show any signs of biological aging at all with the passing of time.

At this point, you don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that biological aging implies chronological aging, but not vice-versa. No chronological aging means no time passing, and no time passing means nothing takes place, metabolism included. However, since different creatures age differently (or not at all) despite time passing at the same rate for all of them, chronological aging doesn’t imply biological aging. Quite simply, they’re not the same thing.

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s

Having cleared the difference between chronological and biological aging, we must now correctly attribute the aforementioned pros and cons of old age to each of them.

From the very definition of biological aging above, it’s clear that it is the culprit responsible for the cons—the diseases of old age.

Speaking of the pros, all possible benefits of old age—life experience, wisdom, sense of accomplishment—certainly do not come from the damage that metabolism has wrecked throughout your body over the years. Clearly, they depend on the events of your life, and thus they’re not at all granted to happen, no matter how long you live. If you spent your life in isolation doing nothing, avoiding new experiences, and not learning anything new, your wisdom as an eighty-year-old would hardly compare to that of a well-traveled, seasoned scientist or philosopher of the same age, for example. Ultimately, the benefits traditionally attributed to old age obviously depend on the passing of time (i.e., chronological aging), and most of all on the use you made of your time. Just because you’re old, you’re not automatically wise, accomplished, or well-learned.

What’s more, the debilitation that comes with biological aging makes it harder for you to relish and expand the wisdom and experience you’ve accrued over the years. So, not only does biological aging bring no benefits; it is a hindrance as well.

In conclusion, the pros and cons of old age are due to different causes, and, as such, they aren’t interdependent. The diseases of old age are not a currency you can use to buy yourself the wisdom of the aged, and thanks to the emergence of rejuvenation biotechnologies, you might relatively soon be able to enjoy the pros of old age without having to pay any undue and unfair tolls.

 

About Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà has been an enthusiastic supporter and advocate of rejuvenation science since 2011. Although his preferred approach to treating age-related diseases is Aubrey de Grey’s suggested SENS platform, he is very interested in any other potential approach as well. In 2015, he launched the blog Rejuvenaction to advocate for rejuvenation and to answer common concerns that generally come with the prospect of vastly extended healthy lifespans. Originally a mathematician graduated from Helsinki University, his scientific interests range from cosmology to AI, from drawing and writing to music, and he always complains he doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to all of them—which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension. He’s also a computer programmer and web developer. All the years spent learning about the science of rejuvenation have sparked his interest in biology, in which he’s planning to get a university degree.

About LIFE EXTENSION ADVOCACY FOUNDATION (LEAF)

In 2014, the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting increased healthy human lifespan through fiscally sponsoring longevity research projects and raising awareness regarding the societal benefits of life extension. In 2015 they launched Lifespan.io, the first nonprofit crowdfunding platform focused on the biomedical research of aging.

They believe that this will enable the general public to influence the pace of research directly. To date they have successfully supported four research projects aimed at investigating different processes of aging and developing therapies to treat age-related diseases.

The LEAF team organizes educational events, takes part in different public and scientific conferences, and actively engages with the public on social media in order to help disseminate this crucial information. They initiate public dialogue aimed at regulatory improvement in the fields related to rejuvenation biotechnology.

I am the Lifespan – Video by Gennady Stolyarov II

I am the Lifespan – Video by Gennady Stolyarov II

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Gennady Stolyarov II


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, discusses why longevity research is crucial, and how our generation stands on the threshold of finally dealing a decisive blow to the age-old enemies of aging and death, which have destroyed great human minds since the emergence of our species.

This video is part of the #IAmTheLifespan campaign, coordinated by Lifespan.io and the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) for Longevity Month, October 2017. Read more about this campaign here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Apply here.

LEAF Panel: How to Promote Longevity? ft. Drs. Aubrey de Grey, Alexandra Stolzing, Oliver Medvedik

LEAF Panel: How to Promote Longevity? ft. Drs. Aubrey de Grey, Alexandra Stolzing, Oliver Medvedik

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Keith Comito
Oliver Medvedik
Steve Hill
Elena Milova
Aubrey de Grey
Alexandra Stolzing
Alen Akhabaev


The U.S. Transhumanist Party is pleased to feature this extensive discussion, hosted by our allies at LEAF – the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation.

Description by LEAF: Dr. Alexandra Stolzing, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Dr. Oliver Medvedik and a number of other guests discuss longevity, advocacy and rejuvenation biotechnology in an exclusive panel hosted by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF). This panel, moderated by LEAF president Keith Comito, talks about the latest progress in rejuvenation biotechnology and about how to engage, educate and excite the public regarding cutting-edge medicine.

Panel: Dr. Alexandra Stolzing, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Dr. Oliver Medvedik , Elena Milova, Keith Comito, Steve Hill and Alen Akhabaev.

Subscribe to LEAF’s video channel for more.

Support LEAF’s work by becoming a “Lifespan Hero”: http://lifespan.io/hero

A “Disease” Approach in Life-Extension Advocacy Can Facilitate Communication with the General Public – Infographic by Elena Milova and Keith Comito

A “Disease” Approach in Life-Extension Advocacy Can Facilitate Communication with the General Public – Infographic by Elena Milova and Keith Comito

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Elena Milova and Keith Comito


The U.S. Transhumanist Party is pleased to share this infographic from our friends at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), one of the Transhumanist Party’s most active Allied Organizations. Life-extension advocates Elena Milova and Keith Comito have compiled a set of tips for communicating ideas regarding the progress of medical science and technology, for the pursuit of healthy life extension, in such a manner as to enable many in the general public to understand and sympathize with our goals and the science behind them. We encourage you to distribute this infographic to any activists and advocates who you think would benefit from the advice therein.

LEAF Interview with Dr. Aubrey de Grey: Controlling the Main Aging Damages

LEAF Interview with Dr. Aubrey de Grey: Controlling the Main Aging Damages

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Aubrey de Grey and Life Extension Advocacy Foundation


The U.S. Transhumanist Party is pleased to feature this interview of Dr. Aubrey de Grey, the Transhumanist Party’s Anti-Aging Advisor, conducted by Elena Milova of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), one of the Transhumanist Party’s most active Allied Organizations. You can also see this interview on YouTube here.

Description by LEAF: Please enjoy this interview with Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer and Co-founder of SENS Research Foundation — one of the most successful advocacy and fundraising initiatives supporting breakthrough research on the main mechanisms of aging and age-related diseases.

In this video Dr. de Grey speaks about the progress in developing interventions to tackle age-related damages identified by SENS as the main ones.

Interviewer – LEAF/Lifespan.io Board member Elena Milova.

Dr. de Grey received his BA in Computer Science and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Cambridge in 1985 and 2000, respectively. He is Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research , is a Fellow of both the Gerontological Society of America and the American Aging Association, and sits on the editorial and scientific advisory boards of numerous journals and organizations.

Subscribe to Lifespan.io’s YouTube channel for more.

This interview is presented by LEAF. Please support its work by becoming a “Lifespan Hero“.