Researchers from UConn Health and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine have recently discovered that human chromosomes age with us. When we are young, chromosomes are loosely coiled, allowing for thousands of sites to be open and ready to activate genes and make proteins. As we age, some sections of the chromosome curl and become more tightly coiled, making it more difficult for DNA that defends our body against disease to be accessed.
The genomic study utilized blood samples from 75 healthy, young people (ages 22-40), and 26 samples from healthy seniors (age 65 and up). The researchers isolated immune cells from each blood sample, and looked at how the immune cells’ gene activation changed with aging. The scientists found that regions of chromosome that code for genes that develop and differentiate T-cells, which help defend against the flu, viral infections, and some cancers, are more likely to be open in young people than in seniors. They also discovered that the elderly are more likely to have open regions of chromosome that code for genes associated with cell death and inflammation. Previous studies have shown that chromosomes shrink with age, and that gene expression is affected (The Scientist). However, the discovery of differently coiled chromosomes between young people and seniors had never been seen before in genomic analysis, and is now helping researchers conduct studies in overall disease resilience in older people. I find this topic very interesting because it may lead to medical breakthroughs in the care of the elderly. It is amazing to think that by learning about how the chromosomes age we can possibly make seniors more resilient to certain diseases.