Rate of aging determined in the womb


Scientists from the UK have found that key clues in your blood, called metabolites, can provide insight in to each person’s long-term overall health and their rate of aging in later life. These chemical clues are left behind as a result of early molecular changes before birth or in infancy.

The new study highlights how a technique called “metabolomic profiling” has revealed a collection of 22 metabolites linked to aging.

One of these metabolites, which linked to aging traits such as lung function and bone mineral density, is also strongly associated with birthweight. Birthweight is a well-known developmental determinant of healthy aging. As Professor Tim Spector, Head of the Department of Twin Research at King’s College London, explains: “Scientists have known for a long time that a person’s weight at the time of birth is an important determinant of health in middle and old age, and that people with low birthweight are more susceptible to age-related diseases.”

This new finding suggests that levels of this novel metabolite, which may be determined in the womb and affected by nutrition during development, could reflect accelerated aging in later adult life.

Scientists say the findings show it is possible that these markers of aging can be identified with simple blood tests in the future, which may provide further clues to the aging process and could pave the way for development of therapies to treat age-related conditions.

Ana Valdes, lead researcher from King’s College London, said: “Human aging is a process influenced by genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors, but genes only explain a part of the story. Molecular changes that influence how we age over time are triggered by epigenetic changes.”

Epigenetic changes are changes where genes are switched on or off by chemical switches triggered by the person’s environment or lifestyle. These epigenetic changes may then influence metabolism during a person’s lifetime, which in turn influences their risk of age-related diseases.

Ana Valdes continued by saying: “This study has for the first time used analysis of blood and epigenetic changes to identify a novel metabolite that has a link to birthweight and rate of aging.”

The researchers made this discovery through analyzing blood samples donated by over 6,000 twins. Crucially, the researchers found that a unique metabolite, called “C-glyTrp” was also associated with lower weight at birth when they compared the birthweights of identical twins.

Valdes explained that “this unique metabolite, which is related to age and age-related diseases, was different in genetically identical twins that had very different weight at birth. This shows us that birthweight affects a molecular mechanism that alters this metabolite. This may help us understand how lower nutrition in the womb alters molecular pathways that result in faster aging and a higher risk of age-related diseases fifty years later.”


Menni C. Kastenmüller G. Petersen AK. Bell JT. Psatha M. Tsai P. Gieger C. Schulz H. Erte I. John S. Brosnan MJ. Wilson SG. Tsaprouni L. Lim EM. Stuckey B. Deloukas P. Mohney R. Suhre K. Spector TD. Valdes AM. Metabolomic Markers Reveal Novel Pathways of Ageing and Early Development in Human Populations. International Journal of Epidemiology. First published online July 8, 2013 doi:10.1093/ije/dyt094

This content of this piece was informed by the King’s College London Media Page

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