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The shared epigenetic footprint of age and cancer

Jul 20, 2023

Ageing and cancer share an epigenetic replication signature, suggesting age-related replication may drive cells towards a tumorigenic state.


Key takeaways: More than bad luck: Cancer and aging are linked to replication-driven changes to the epigenome


  • Link between ageing and cancer: Ageing is a significant risk factor for cancer. While previously it was believed that the accumulation of somatic mutations with age was the primary driver of this relationship, this study suggests that there’s more to the story. The research indicates that ageing and cancer share a common epigenetic replication signature
  • CellDRIFT signature: The study introduces a signature termed CellDRIFT, which increases with age across various tissues. This signature distinguishes tumour tissues from normal ones and is even escalated in normal breast tissues of cancer patients. The findings suggest that age-related replication might drive epigenetic changes in cells, pushing them towards a more tumorigenic state
  • Replication-driven epigenetic changes: As cells replicate in ageing tissues, they might adopt epigenetic signatures that resemble cancer, making the transformation to a cancerous state more likely as time progresses. The rate of this transformation might be faster in tissues with a higher replication rate
  • Reprogramming and cellDRIFT: The study explored whether cellular reprogramming can reset or modulate the CellDRIFT signature. It was observed that during the maturation phase of reprogramming, there was a significant decrease in the CellDRIFT signal, suggesting a potential reset of the epigenetic changes associated with ageing and cancer risk


Reference: Minteer, Christopher J., et al. “More than bad luck: Cancer and aging are linked to replication-driven changes to the epigenome.” Science Advances 19 Jul. 2023, Vol. 9, No. 29.