Scientists have known for years that age is a leading risk factor for the development of many types of cancer, but why aging increases cancer risk remains unclear.
Researchers suspect that DNA methylation, or the binding of chemical tags, called methyl groups, onto DNA, may be involved. Methyl groups activate or silence genes, by affecting interactions between DNA and the cell’s protein-making machinery.
Zongli Xu, Ph.D., and Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, identified DNA methylation sites across the human genome that changed with age. They demonstrated that a subset of those sites — the ones that become increasingly methylated with advancing age — are also disproportionately methylated in a variety of human cancers. Their findings were published online in the journal Carcinogenesis.
“You can think of methylation as dust settling on an unused switch, which then prevents the cell from turning on certain genes,” Taylor said. “If a cell can no longer turn on critical developmental programs, it might be easier for it to become a cancer cell.”
Xu and Taylor made the discovery using blood samples from participants in the Sister Study, a nationwide research effort to find the environmental and genetic causes of breast cancer and other diseases. More than 50,000 sisters of women who have had breast cancer are participating in the study.
The researchers analyzed blood samples from 1,000 women, using a microarray that contained 27,000 specific methylation sites. Nearly one-third of the sites showed increased DNA methylation in association with age. They then looked at three additional data sets from smaller studies that used the same microarray and found 749 methylation sites that behaved consistently across all four data sets. As an additional check, they consulted methylation data from normal tissues and seven different types of cancerous tumors in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a database funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Taylor said that DNA methylation appears to be part of the normal aging process and occurs in genes involved in cell development. Cancer cells often have altered DNA methylation, but the researchers were surprised to find that 70-90 percent of the sites associated with age showed significantly increased methylation in all seven cancer types. Taylor suggests that age-related methylation may disable the expression of certain genes, making it easier for cells to transition to cancer.
The research also determined how fast these methylation events accumulate in cells. They occur at a rate of one per year, according to Xu.
“On your 50th birthday, you would have 50 of these sites [from the subset of 749] that have acquired methyl groups in each cell,” Xu said. “The longer you live, the more methylation you will have.”
For future work, Xu and Taylor want to examine more samples, using a newer microarray that will explore methylation at 450,000 genomic methylation sites. The additional samples and larger microarray, which will provide 16 times more genomic coverage, will allow them to address whether environmental exposures during adulthood or infancy affect methylation profiles. These additional studies will help scientists better understand why methylation happens as people march toward their retirement years.
DNA methylation is one of several epigenetic mechanisms that can control gene expression without changes in DNA sequence. This study is part of a broader research effort, funded by NIEHS, to understand how environmental and other factors affect epigenetic mechanisms in relation to health.
NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics, visit http://www.niehs.nih.gov. Subscribe to one or more of the NIEHS news lists (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newslist/index.cfm) to stay current on NIEHS news, press releases, grant opportunities, training, events, and publications.About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.
NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health ®
Reference: Xu Z, Taylor JA. 2014. Genome-wide age-related DNA methylation changes in blood and other tissues relate to histone modification, expression, and cancer. Carcinogenesis 35(2):356-364.Grant numbers:
Robin Arnette | Newswise
Further reports about: > Cancer > DNA > DNA methylation > Environmental Health > Environmental Health Sciences > Human vaccine > Management Insights feature > NIEHS > NIH > blood sample > breast cancer > cancerous tumor > epigenetic mechanism > genetic mechanism > health services > human cancer > medical research > methyl group > types of cancer
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine