The Cutting Edge of Epigenetic Clocks: In Search of Mechanisms Linking Aging and Mental Health

Zachary M. Harvanek, Marco P. Boks, Christiaan H. Vinkers, Albert T. Higgins-Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Individuals with psychiatric disorders are at increased risk of age-related diseases and early mortality. Recent studies demonstrate that this link between mental health and aging is reflected in epigenetic clocks, aging biomarkers based on DNA methylation. The reported relationships between epigenetic clocks and mental health are mostly correlational, and the mechanisms are poorly understood. Here, we review recent progress concerning the molecular and cellular processes underlying epigenetic clocks as well as novel technologies enabling further studies of the causes and consequences of epigenetic aging. We then review the current literature on how epigenetic clocks relate to specific aspects of mental health, such as stress, medications, substance use, health behaviors, and symptom clusters. We propose an integrated framework where mental health and epigenetic aging are each broken down into multiple distinct processes, which are then linked to each other, using stress and schizophrenia as examples. This framework incorporates the heterogeneity and complexity of both mental health conditions and aging, may help reconcile conflicting results, and provides a basis for further hypothesis-driven research in humans and model systems to investigate potentially causal mechanisms linking aging and mental health.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Early online date2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2023

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