The role of DNA methylation in aging, rejuvenation, and age-related disease

DNA methylation is a major control program that modulates gene expression in a plethora of organisms. Gene silencing through methylation occurs through the activity of DNA methyltransferases, enzymes that transfer a methyl group from S-adenosyl-l-methionine to the carbon 5 position of cytosine. DNA methylation patterns are established by the de novo DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) DNMT3A and DNMT3B and are subsequently maintained by DNMT1. Aging and age-related diseases include defined changes in 5-methylcytosine content and are generally characterized by genome-wide hypomethylation and promoter-specific hypermethylation. These changes in the epigenetic landscape represent potential disease biomarkers and are thought to contribute to age-related pathologies, such as cancer, osteoarthritis, and neurodegeneration. Some diseases, such as a hereditary form of sensory neuropathy accompanied by dementia, are directly caused by methylomic changes. Epigenetic modifications, however, are reversible and are therefore a prime target for therapeutic intervention. Numerous drugs that specifically target DNMTs are being tested in ongoing clinical trials for a variety of cancers, and data from finished trials demonstrate that some, such as 5-azacytidine, may even be superior to standard care. DNMTs, demethylases, and associated partners are dynamically shaping the methylome and demonstrate great promise with regard to rejuvenation. © Copyright 2012, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2012.