Methylation signatures in peripheral blood are associated with marked age acceleration and disease progression in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis

Michael Trauner, Yevgeniy Gindin, Zhaoshi Jiang, Chuhan Chung, G. Mani Subramanian, Robert P. Myers, Aliya Gulamhusein, Kris V. Kowdley, Cynthia Levy, Zachary Goodman, Michael P. Manns, Andrew J. Muir, Christopher L. Bowlus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background & Aims: A DNA methylation (DNAm) signature derived from 353 CpG sites (the Horvath clock) has been proposed as an epigenetic measure of chronological and biological age. This epigenetic signature is accelerated in diverse tissue types in various disorders, including non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and is associated with mortality. Here, we assayed whole blood DNAm to explore age acceleration in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). Methods: Using the MethylationEPIC BeadChip (850K) array, DNAm signatures in whole blood were analyzed in 36 patients with PSC enrolled in a 96-week trial of simtuzumab (Ishak F0-1, n = 13; F5-6, n = 23). Age acceleration was calculated as the difference between DNAm age and chronological age. Comparisons between patients with high and low age acceleration (≥ vs. < the median) were made and Cox regression evaluated the association between age acceleration and PSC-related clinical events (e.g. decompensation, cholangitis, transplantation). Results: Age acceleration was significantly higher in patients with PSC compared to a healthy reference cohort (median, 11.1 years, p <2.2 × 10-16). In PSC, demographics, presence of inflammatory bowel disease, and ursodeoxycholic acid use were similar between patients with low and high age acceleration. However, patients with high age acceleration had increased serum alkaline phosphatase, gamma glutamyltransferase, alanine aminotransferase, enhanced liver fibrosis test scores, and greater hepatic collagen and α-smooth muscle actin expression on liver biopsy (all p <0.05). Moreover, patients with high age acceleration had an increased prevalence of cirrhosis (89% vs. 39%; p = 0.006) and greater likelihood of PSC-related events (hazard ratio 4.19; 95% CI 1.15–15.24). Conclusion: This analysis of blood DNAm profiles suggests that compared with healthy controls, patients with PSC – particularly those with cirrhosis - exhibit significant acceleration of epigenetic age. Future studies are required to evaluate the prognostic implications and effect of therapies on global methylation patterns and age acceleration in PSC. Lay summary: An epigenetic clock based on DNA methylation has been proposed as a marker of age. In liver diseases such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, age acceleration based on this epigenetic clock has been observed. Herein, we show that patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis have marked age acceleration, which is further accentuated by worsening fibrosis. This measure of age acceleration could be a useful marker for prognostication or risk stratification in primary sclerosing cholangitis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100060
JournalJHEP Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • biomarker
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • prognosis
  • ursodeoxycholic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Internal Medicine
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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