Bertucci, E. M. et al.
The rate at which individuals age underlies variation in life history and attendant health and disease trajectories. Age specific patterning of the DNA methylome (“epigenetic aging”) is strongly correlated with chronological age in humans and can be modeled to produce epigenetic age predictors. However, epigenetic age estimates vary among individuals of the same age, and this mismatch is correlated to the onset of age-related disease and all-cause mortality. Yet, the origins of epigenetic-to-chronological age discordance are not resolved. In an effort to develop a tractable model in which environmental drivers of epigenetic aging can be assessed, we investigate the relationship between aging and DNA methylation in a small teleost, medaka (Oryzias latipes). We find that age-associated DNA methylation patterning occurs broadly across the genome, with the majority of age-related changes occurring during early life. By modeling the stereotypical nature of age-associated DNA methylation dynamics, we built an epigenetic clock, which predicts chronological age with a mean error of 29.1 days (~4\% of average lifespan). Characterization of clock loci suggests that aspects of epigenetic aging are functionally similar across vertebrates. To understand how environmental factors interact with epigenetic aging, we exposed medaka to four doses of ionizing radiation for seven weeks, hypothesizing that exposure to such an environmental stressor would accelerate epigenetic aging. While the epigenetic clock was not significantly affected, radiation exposure accelerated and decelerated patterns of normal epigenetic aging, with radiation-induced epigenetic alterations enriched at loci that become hypermethylated with age. Together, our findings advance ongoing research attempting to elucidate the functional role of DNA methylation in integrating environmental factors into the rate of biological aging.