Human aging DNA methylation signatures are conserved but accelerated in cultured fibroblasts

<p>Aging is associated with progressive and site-specific changes in DNA methylation (DNAm). These global changes are captured by DNAm clocks that accurately predict chronological age in humans but relatively little is known about how clocks perform <i>in vitro</i>. Here we culture primary human fibroblasts across the cellular lifespan (~6 months) and use four different DNAm clocks to show that age-related DNAm signatures are conserved and accelerated <i>in vitro</i>. The Skin & Blood clock shows the best linear correlation with chronological time (r = 0.90), including during replicative senescence. Although similar in nature, the rate of epigenetic aging is approximately 62x times faster in cultured cells than in the human body. Consistent with <i>in vivo</i> data, cells aged under hyperglycemic conditions exhibit an approximately three years elevation in baseline DNAm age. Moreover, candidate gene-based analyses further corroborate the conserved but accelerated biological aging process in cultured fibroblasts. Fibroblasts mirror the established DNAm topology of the age-related <i>ELOVL2</i> gene in human blood and the rapid hypermethylation of its promoter cg16867657, which correlates with a linear decrease in ELOVL2 mRNA levels across the lifespan. Using generalized additive modeling on twelve timepoints across the lifespan, we also show how single CpGs exhibit loci-specific, linear and nonlinear trajectories that reach rates up to −47% (hypomethylation) to +23% (hypermethylation) per month. Together, these high-temporal resolution global, gene-specific, and single CpG data highlight the conserved and accelerated nature of epigenetic aging in cultured fibroblasts, which may constitute a system to evaluate age-modifying interventions across the lifespan.</p>