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Epigenetic biomarkers of ageing are predictive of mortality risk in a longitudinal clinical cohort of individuals diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer

  • Beynon, Rhona A.1, 2
  • Ingle, Suzanne M.2
  • Langdon, Ryan1, 2
  • May, Margaret2
  • Ness, Andy3
  • Martin, Richard M.1, 2
  • Suderman, Matthew1, 2
  • Ingarfield, Kate3, 4, 5
  • Marioni, Riccardo E.6
  • McCartney, Daniel L.6
  • Waterboer, Tim7
  • Pawlita, Michael7
  • Relton, Caroline1, 2
  • Smith, George Davey1, 2
  • Richmond, Rebecca C.1, 2
  • 1 University of Bristol, Oakfield House, Bristol, BS8 2BN, UK , Bristol (United Kingdom)
  • 2 University of Bristol, Bristol, UK , Bristol (United Kingdom)
  • 3 University Hospitals Bristol and University of Bristol, Bristol, UK , Bristol (United Kingdom)
  • 4 Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park Way, Cardiff, UK , Cardiff (United Kingdom)
  • 5 University of Glasgow Dental School, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, UK , Glasgow (United Kingdom)
  • 6 University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH4 2XU, UK , Edinburgh (United Kingdom)
  • 7 German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Germany , Heidelberg (Germany)
Published Article
Clinical Epigenetics
Publication Date
Jan 03, 2022
DOI: 10.1186/s13148-021-01220-4
Springer Nature
  • Epigenetic Biomarkers


BackgroundEpigenetic clocks are biomarkers of ageing derived from DNA methylation levels at a subset of CpG sites. The difference between age predicted by these clocks and chronological age, termed “epigenetic age acceleration”, has been shown to predict age-related disease and mortality. We aimed to assess the prognostic value of epigenetic age acceleration and a DNA methylation-based mortality risk score with all-cause mortality in a prospective clinical cohort of individuals with head and neck cancer: Head and Neck 5000. We investigated two markers of intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (IEAAHorvath and IEAAHannum), one marker of extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (EEAA), one optimised to predict physiological dysregulation (AgeAccelPheno), one optimised to predict lifespan (AgeAccelGrim) and a DNA methylation-based predictor of mortality (ZhangScore). Cox regression models were first used to estimate adjusted hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for associations of epigenetic age acceleration with all-cause mortality in people with oropharyngeal cancer (n = 408; 105 deaths). The added prognostic value of epigenetic markers compared to a clinical model including age, sex, TNM stage and HPV status was then evaluated.ResultsIEAAHannum and AgeAccelGrim were associated with mortality risk after adjustment for clinical and lifestyle factors (HRs per standard deviation [SD] increase in age acceleration = 1.30 [95% CI 1.07, 1.57; p = 0.007] and 1.40 [95% CI 1.06, 1.83; p = 0.016], respectively). There was weak evidence that the addition of AgeAccelGrim to the clinical model improved 3-year mortality prediction (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve: 0.80 vs. 0.77; p value for difference = 0.069).ConclusionIn the setting of a large, clinical cohort of individuals with head and neck cancer, our study demonstrates the potential of epigenetic markers of ageing to enhance survival prediction in people with oropharyngeal cancer, beyond established prognostic factors. Our findings have potential uses in both clinical and non-clinical contexts: to aid treatment planning and improve patient stratification.

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