An hour of the epigenetic clock

This 2018 presentation by the founder of the epigenetic clock method described the state of the art up through July 2018. The webinar was given on the release day of The epigenetic clock now includes skin study.

Segments before the half-hour mark provide an introduction to the method and several details about the concurrently-released study. The Q&A section starts a little before the hour mark.


Epigenetic causes of sexual orientation and handedness?

This 2018 Austrian human study subject was various associations of prenatal testosterone levels to fetal development:

“The available evidence suggests, albeit not conclusively, that prenatal testosterone levels may be one cause for the association of sexual orientation with handedness. Associations among women were consistent with predictions of the Geschwind–Galaburda theory (GGT), whereas those among men were consistent with predictions of the callosal hypothesis. However, research on the associations between sexual orientation and handedness appears to be compromised by various methodological and interpretational problems which need to be overcome to arrive at a clearer picture.

The GGT posits that high prenatal testosterone levels cause a delay in the fetal development of the left cerebral hemisphere which results in a right-hemisphere dominance and hence in a tendency for left-handedness. According to the GGT, high prenatal testosterone levels entail not only a masculinization of the female fetus, but also a feminization of the male fetus (contrary to neurohormonal theory). Overall, the male fetus is subjected to higher levels of intrauterine testosterone than the female fetus. The GGT is thus consistent with the higher prevalence of left-handedness among men than among women.

The callosal hypothesis applies to men only and assumes, in line with neurohormonal theory, that low prenatal testosterone levels are associated with later homosexuality. According to the CH, high prenatal testosterone enhances processes of cerebral lateralization through mechanisms of axonal pruning, thereby resulting in stronger left-hemisphere dominance and a smaller corpus callosum. Consistent with this, women have a larger corpus callosum than men.”

The study’s Limitations section included the following:

  1. “Limitations of the current study pertain to the self-report nature of our data. Behavioral data may provide differing results from those obtained here.
  2. Assessment of sexual orientation relied on a single-item measure. Utilization of rating scales (e.g., the Kinsey Sexual Orientation Scale) or of multi-item scales, and assessing different components of sexual orientation, would have allowed for a more fine-grained analysis and for a cross-validation of sexual orientation ratings with sexual attraction.
  3. Albeit both our samples were large, the proportions of bisexual and homosexual individuals were, expectedly, only small, as were effects of lateral preferences. Thus, in analysis we could not differentiate bisexual from homosexual individuals. Bisexual and homosexual individuals may differ with regard to the distribution of lateral preferences.
  4. Some effect tests in this study have been underpowered. Independent replications with even larger samples are still needed.”

The largest unstated limitation was no fetal measurements. When a fetus’ epigenetic responses and adaptations aren’t considered, not only can the two competing hypotheses not be adequately compared, but causes for the studied phenotypic programming and other later-life effects will also be missed. “Associations of Bisexuality and Homosexuality with Handedness and Footedness: A Latent Variable Analysis Approach”

Burying human transgenerational epigenetic evidence

The poor substitutes for evidence in this 2018 US study guaranteed that human transgenerational epigenetically inherited effects wouldn’t be found in the generations that followed after prenatal diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure:

“A synthetic, nonsteroidal estrogen, DES was administered to pregnant women under the mistaken belief it would reduce pregnancy complications and losses. From the late 1930s through the early 1970s, DES was given to nearly two million pregnant women in the US alone.

Use of DES in pregnancy was discontinued after a seminal report showed a strong association with vaginal clear cell adenocarcinoma in prenatally exposed women. A recent analysis of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) DES Combined Cohort Follow-up Study showed elevated relative risks of twelve adverse health outcomes.

We do not have sufficient data concerning the indication for DES in the grandmother to determine whether adverse pregnancy outcomes in the third generation might resemble those of their grandmothers. Fourth generation effects of prenatal exposures in humans have not been reported.”

This study had many elements in common with its wretched cited reference [25] “Transgenerational effects of prenatal exposure to the 1944–45 Dutch famine” which is freely available at

That study’s Methods section showed:

  1. Its non-statistical data was almost all unverified self-reports by a self-selected sample of the F2 grandchildren, average age 37.
  2. No detailed physical measurements or samples were taken of the F2 grandchildren, or of their F1 parents, or of their F0 grandparents, all of which are required as baselines for any transgenerational epigenetic inheritance findings.
  3. No detailed physical measurements or samples were taken of their F3 children, which is the generation that may provide transgenerational evidence if the previous generations also have detailed physical baselines.

That study’s researchers drew enough participants (360) such that their statistics package allowed them to impute and assume into existence a LOT of data. But the scientific method constrained them to make factual statements of what the evidence actually showed. They admitted:

“In conclusion, we did not find a transgenerational effect of prenatal famine exposure on the health of grandchildren in this study.”

The current study similarly used the faulty methods 1-3 above to produce results such as:

“We do not have sufficient data concerning the indication for DES in the [F0] grandmother to determine whether adverse pregnancy outcomes in the [F2] third generation might resemble those of their grandmothers. [F3] Fourth generation effects of prenatal exposures in humans have not been reported.”

What did these researchers expect from a study design that permitted non-evidence like educational level?

Human studies of possible intergenerational and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance are urgently needed. There will be abundant evidence to discover if researchers will take their fields seriously. “Reproductive and Hormone-Related Outcomes in Women whose Mothers were Exposed in utero to Diethylstilbestrol (DES): A Report from the US National Cancer Institute DES Third Generation Study” (not freely available)

Fear of feeling?

Here’s a 2018 article from two researchers involved in the Dunedin (New Zealand) Longitudinal Study. They coauthored many studies, including People had the same personalities at age 26 that they had at age 3.

The paper’s grand hypothesis was:

“A single dimension is able to measure a person’s liability to mental disorder, comorbidity among disorders, persistence of disorders over time, and severity of symptoms.”

The coauthors partially based this on:

“Repeated diagnostic interviews carried out over 25 years, when the research participants were 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 years old, and include information about seven diagnostic groups: anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, substance dependence, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.” “All for One and One for All: Mental Disorders in One Dimension” (not freely available)

More about the coauthors:

Two psychologists followed 1000 New Zealanders for decades. Here’s what they found about how childhood shapes later life

“Dunedin and other studies show that most people have at least one episode of mental illness during their lifetime.”

What compels people to search for “universal truths” instead of personal truths? Are we afraid of our feelings?

What if the grand hypothesis worth proving was: For one’s life to have meaning, each individual has to regain their feelings?

Fitting data

Let’s start out the new year with a repost of a cautionary reminder:

“Both “predict and “explain” imply that investigators have uncovered a reliable structure to phenomena, the latter involving hypotheses describing unseen mechanisms, leading to a new ability to control events and produce formerly unpredicted/unpredictable outcomes. This is clearly not a fair description of post hoc correlation-fishing.

The current publication system almost forces authors to make causal statements using filler verbs (e.g. to drive, alter, promote) as a form of storytelling (Gomez-Marin, 2017); without such a statement they are often accused of just collecting meaningless facts.” “Neuroscience Newspeak, Or How to Publish Meaningless Facts”

The epigenetic clock now includes skin

The originator of the 2013 epigenetic clock improved its coverage with this 2018 UCLA human study:

“We present a new DNA methylation-based biomarker (based on 391 CpGs) that was developed to accurately measure the age of human fibroblasts, keratinocytes, buccal cells, endothelial cells, skin and blood samples. We also observe strong age correlations in sorted neurons, glia, brain, liver, and bone samples.

The skin & blood clock outperforms widely used existing biomarkers when it comes to accurately measuring the age of an individual based on DNA extracted from skin, dermis, epidermis, blood, saliva, buccal swabs, and endothelial cells. Thus, the biomarker can also be used for forensic and biomedical applications involving human specimens.

The biomarker applies to the entire age span starting from newborns, e.g. DNAm of cord blood samples correlates with gestational week.

Furthermore, the skin & blood clock confirms the effect of lifestyle and demographic variables on epigenetic aging. Essentially it highlights a significant trend of accelerated epigenetic aging with sub-clinical indicators of poor health.

Conversely, reduced aging rate is correlated with known health-improving features such as physical exercise, fish consumption, high carotenoid levels. As with the other age predictors, the skin & blood clock is also able to predict time to death.

Collectively, these features show that while the skin & blood clock is clearly superior in its performance on skin cells, it crucially retained all the other features that are common to other existing age estimators.” “Epigenetic clock for skin and blood cells applied to Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome and ex vivo studies”

An introduction to the study highlighted several items:

“Although the skin-blood clock was derived from significantly less samples (~900) than Horvath’s clock (~8000 samples), it was found to more accurately predict chronological age, not only across fibroblasts and skin, but also across blood, buccal and saliva tissue. A potential factor driving this improved accuracy in blood could be related to the approximate 18-fold increase in genomic coverage afforded by using Illumina 450k/850k beadarrays.

It serves as a roadmap for future clock studies, pointing towards the importance of constructing tissue or cell-type specific epigenetic clocks, to more accurately measure biological aging in the given tissue/cell-type, and therefore with the potential to be more informative of disease-risk or the success of disease interventions in the tissue or cell-type of interest.” “Epigenetic clocks galore: a new improved clock predicts age-acceleration in Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome patients”

The role of recall neurons in traumatic memories

This 2018 Swiss rodent study found:

“Our data show that:

  • A subset of memory recall–induced neurons in the DG [dentate gyrus] becomes reactivated after memory attenuation,
  • The degree of fear reduction positively correlates with this reactivation, and
  • The continued activity of memory recall–induced neurons is critical for remote fear memory attenuation.

Although other brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are likely to be implicated in remote fear memories and remain to be investigated, these results suggest that fear attenuation at least partially occurs in memory recall–induced ensembles through updating or unlearning of the original memory trace of fear.

These data thereby provide the first evidence at an engram-specific level that fear attenuation may not be driven only by extinction learning, that is, by an inhibitory memory trace different from the original fear trace.

Rather, our findings indicate that during remote fear memory attenuation both mechanisms likely coexist, albeit with the importance of the continued activity of memory recall–induced neurons experimentally documented herein. Such activity may not only represent the capacity for a valence change in DG engram cells but also be a prerequisite for memory reconsolidation, namely, an opportunity for learning inside the original memory trace.

As such, this activity likely constitutes a physiological correlate sine qua non for effective exposure therapies against traumatic memories in humans: the engagement, rather than the suppression, of the original trauma.”

The researchers also provided examples of human trauma:

“We dedicate this work to O.K.’s father, Mohamed Salah El-Dien, and J.G.’s mother, Wilma, who both sadly passed away during its completion.”

So, how can this study help humans? The study had disclosed and undisclosed limitations:

1. Humans aren’t lab rats. We can ourselves individually change our responses to experiential causes of ongoing adverse effects. Standard methodologies can only apply external treatments.

2. It’s a bridge too far to go from neural activity in transgenic mice to expressing unfounded opinions on:

“A physiological correlate sine qua non for effective exposure therapies against traumatic memories in humans.”

Human exposure therapies have many drawbacks, in addition to being applied externally to the patient on someone else’s schedule. A few others were discussed in The role of DNMT3a in fear memories:

  • “Inability to generalize its efficacy over time,
  • Potential return of adverse memory in the new/novel contexts,
  • Context-dependent nature of extinction which is widely viewed as the biological basis of exposure therapy.”

3. Rodent neural activity also doesn’t elevate recall to become an important goal of effective human therapies. Clearly, what the rodents experienced should be translated into human reliving/re-experiencing, not recall. Terminology used in animal studies preferentially has the same meaning with humans, since the purpose of animal studies is to help humans.

4. The researchers acknowledged that:

“Other brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are likely to be implicated in remote fear memories and remain to be investigated.”

A study that provided evidence for basic principles of Primal Therapy determined another brain area:

“The findings imply that in response to traumatic stress, some individuals, instead of activating the glutamate system to store memories, activate the extra-synaptic GABA system and form inaccessible traumatic memories.”

The study I curated yesterday, Organ epigenetic memory, demonstrated organ memory storage. It’s hard to completely rule out that other body areas may also store traumatic memories.

The wide range of epigenetic memory storage vehicles is one reason why effective human therapies need to address the whole person, the whole body, and each individual’s entire history. “Reactivation of recall-induced neurons contributes to remote fear memory attenuation” (not freely available)

Here’s one of the researchers’ outline:

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