Document Type


Publication Date



DOI: 10.1186/s13148-020-00988-1; PMCID: PMC7735420


BACKGROUND: Children of aged fathers are at a higher risk of developing mental disorders. Alterations in sperm DNA methylation have been implicated as a potential cause. However, age-dependent modifications of the germ cells' epigenome remain poorly understood. Our objective was to assess the DNA methylation profile of human spermatozoa during aging.

RESULTS: We used a high throughput, customized methylC-capture sequencing (MCC-seq) approach to characterize the dynamic DNA methylation in spermatozoa from 94 fertile and infertile men, who were categorized as young, 48 men between 18-38 years or old 46 men between 46-71 years. We identified more than 150,000 age-related CpG sites that are significantly differentially methylated among 2.65 million CpG sites covered. We conducted machine learning using our dataset to predict the methylation age of subjects; the age prediction accuracy based on our assay provided a more accurate prediction than that using the 450 K chip approach. In addition, we found that there are more hypermethylated (62%) than hypomethylated (38%) CpG sites in sperm of aged men, corresponding to 798 of total differential methylated regions (DMRs), of which 483 are hypermethylated regions (HyperDMR), and 315 hypomethylated regions (HypoDMR). Moreover, the distribution of age-related hyper- and hypomethylated CpGs in sperm is not random; the CpG sites that were hypermethylated with advanced age were frequently located in the distal region to genes, whereas hypomethylated sites were near to gene transcription start sites (TSS). We identified a high density of age-associated CpG changes in chromosomes 4 and 16, particularly HyperDMRs with localized clusters, the chr4 DMR cluster overlaps PGC1α locus, a protein involved in metabolic aging and the chr16 DMR cluster overlaps RBFOX1 locus, a gene implicated in neurodevelopmental disease. Gene ontology analysis revealed that the most affected genes by age were associated with development, neuron projection, differentiation and recognition, and behaviour, suggesting a potential link to the higher risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children of aged fathers.

CONCLUSION: We identified thousands of age-related and sperm-specific epigenetic alterations. These findings provide novel insight in understanding human sperm DNA methylation dynamics during paternal aging, and the subsequently affected genes potentially related to diseases in offspring.

Journal Title

Clin Epigenetics





First Page


Last Page



Advanced paternal age; DNA methylation; Fertility; MCC-seq; Spermatozoa


Grant support

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Publisher's Link: