The DNA Methylome: An Interface Between the Environment, Immunity, and Ageing

Lisa M. McEwen, Sarah J. Goodman, Michael S. Kobor, and Meaghan J. Jones


The characteristic effects of ageing observed across the human lifespan are accompanied by a multitude of molecular changes. These age-related changes are a result of the complex interaction between our genetic makeup, lifestyle factors, and unique environments. People are subject to a variety of different exposures; many of these influences have the potential to “mark” our DNA and actually alter our cellular processes. This is a key component of epigenetics: a field that focuses on modifications to DNA and DNA packaging that function without altering the genetic sequence itself. DNA methylation is arguably the most well-characterized epigenetic modification, involving the addition of a methyl group to DNA, which, in an interesting paradox, is both stable long-term as well as plastic and reversible. DNA methylation fluctuates throughout the lifespan of mammalian organisms and has the potential to influence cellular processes through changes in gene expression. An important role of DNA meth- ylation is as a molecular mediator between environmental exposures and physiological changes, which makes it a likely modifier of the immune system. In regards to the ageing process, the actual function of DNA methylation is unknown; however, global trends and site-specific changes in DNA methylation have been strongly correlated with chronological age. Here, we will discuss the particulars of epigenetics, with a focus on DNA methylation and its role in the development, maturation, dysfunction, and ageing of white blood cells of the immune system.

L.M. McEwen • S.J. Goodman • M.S. Kobor • M.J. Jones (*)

Center for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, The University of British Columbia, BC Children’s Hospital, A5-151 950 West 28th Ave, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V5Z 4H4 e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017 V. Bueno et al. (eds.), The Ageing Immune System and Health, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-43365-3_3


Epigenetics • DNA methylation • Epigenetic Drift • Epigenetic Clock • Age Acceleration • Biological Age • Blood • Immune system • Environment • Ageing

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