Using a process called metabolomic profiling and comparing the birth weights of thousands of identical twins, scientists at King’s College, London have identified 22 key metabolites in the blood that are linked to aging. These “fingerprints” could provide valuable clues to a person’s long-term health.
One of the metabolites, they said, is “linked to aging traits such as lung function and bone mineral density, is also strongly associated with birth weight – a well-known developmental determinant of healthy aging.”
“Scientists have known for a long time that a person’s weight at the time of birth is an important determinant of health in middle and old age, and that people with low birth weight are more susceptible to age related diseases,” said Professor Tim Spector, head of the Department of Twin Research at King’s College. “So far the molecular mechanisms that link low birth weight to health or disease in old age had remained elusive, but this discovery has revealed one of the molecular pathways involved.”
To reach their conclusions, researchers carried out metabolic profiling of blood samples giving by more than 6,000 identical twins. One of the metabolites, C-glyTrp, is associated with a range of age-related traits such as lung function, bone mineral density, cholesterol and blood pressure. Its role in aging is completely novel. Researchers found it was also associated with lower weight at birth when they compared the birth weights of identical twins.
The study has, for the first time, used analysis of blood to identify the novel metabolite that has a link to birth weight and rate of aging, said Ana Valdes, lead researcher from King’s College.
“This unique metabolite, which is related to age and age-related diseases, was different in genetically identical twins that had very different weight at birth,” she said. “This shows us that birth weight affects a molecular mechanism that alters this metabolite. This may help us understand how lower nutrition in the womb alters molecular pathways that result in faster aging and a higher risk of age-related diseases 50 years later.”
The findings could also pave the way for new treatments and possible cures for common diseases related to aging.