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DOI: 10.18632/aging.203637; PMCID: PMC8580352


Epigenetic clocks based on DNA methylation (DNAm) can accurately predict chronological age and are thought to capture biological aging. A variety of epigenetic clocks have been developed for different tissue types and age ranges, but none have focused on postnatal age prediction for preterm infants. Epigenetic estimators of biological age might be especially informative in epidemiologic studies of neonates since DNAm is highly dynamic during the neonatal period and this is a key developmental window. Additionally, markers of biological aging could be particularly important for those born preterm since they are at heightened risk of developmental impairments. We aimed to fill this gap by developing epigenetic clocks for neonatal aging in preterm infants. As part of the Neonatal Neurobehavior and Outcomes in Very Preterm Infants (NOVI) study, buccal cells were collected at NICU discharge to profile DNAm levels in 542 very preterm infants. We applied elastic net regression to identify four epigenetic clocks (NEOage Clocks) predictive of post-menstrual and postnatal age, compatible with the Illumina EPIC and 450K arrays. We observed high correlations between predicted and reported ages (0.93 - 0.94) with root mean squared errors (1.28 - 1.63 weeks). Epigenetic estimators of neonatal aging in preterm infants can be useful tools to evaluate biological maturity and associations with neonatal and long-term morbidities.

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Aging (Albany NY)





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DNA methylation; epigenetic clock; neonatal aging; preterm infants


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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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