Trending with Impact: Aging and Lung Function Decline

Is there an association between biomarkers of aging and lung function? Researchers conducted a study which aimed to find out.

Human Respiratory System Lungs Anatomy

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By 2050, the United States Census Bureau estimates that 83.7 million people aged 65 years and older will be living in the U.S.—a number that will nearly double the 2012 estimated population. As the scale of the elderly population magnifies, additional aging research will continue to be increasingly relevant. 

“According to the American Lung Association, the lung matures by age 20-25 years, and its function declines gradually after the age of 35 [30].”

Among the elderly population, lung function has been found to vary, even between those who have never smoked, are the same height, and of the same chronological age. This has led researchers to wonder if lung function decline is part of the underlying biological aging processes. No published studies had investigated the associations between epigenetic aging biomarkers and lung function, until 2020.

In 2020, a team of researchers—from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthIcahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNorthwestern University Feinberg School of MedicineVA Boston Healthcare SystemBoston University School of Medicine, and Columbia University—aimed to begin answering this question. The researchers conducted a study with participants from the longitudinal Normative Aging Study (1963 – present) to determine whether or not there is an association between seven biomarkers of aging (BoA) and three measures of lung function. Their paper was published by Aging and entitled: “Biomarkers of aging and lung function in the normative aging study.”

“In this present study, we hypothesized that some of these BoA are associated with lower lung function.”

The Study

From 1961 to 1970, healthy U.S. males between the ages of 21 and 81 enrolled in the ongoing Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. One of the objectives of the study is to characterize the biomedical and psychosocial parameters of normal aging (distinct from the development of disease). There are a total of 2,280 participants in the Normative Aging Study (NAS). In the current Aging study, researchers included 696 elderly men from the NAS.

“The present study included 696 elderly men with 1,070 visits during years of 1999-2013.”

In search of associations between biomarkers of aging and lung function, the researchers first collected the study participants’ personal characteristics, including age, smoking history, height, weight, BMI, education, blood work, and other measures. They then analyzed lung function using three tests: forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), forced expiratory volume in one second / forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC), and maximum mid-expiratory flow (MMEF).

Next, the team analyzed the participants’ epigenetic biomarkers of age; including GrimAgeAccel, PhenoAgeAccel, intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (IEAA), extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (EEAA), and Zhang’s DNAmRiskScore; as well as non-epigenetic biomarkers of age, including telomere length and mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNA-CN). They then assessed for associations between these biomarkers and the three measures of lung function.


“In this longitudinal cohort of 696 elderly males, we found that GrimAgeAccel and Zhang’s DNAmRiskScore were associated with lower lung function, including FEV1, FEV1/FVC, and MMEF.”

The researchers found that the GrimAgeAccel and Zhang’s DNAmRiskScore were both associated with lower lung function in all three measures of lung function. They found no correlation between non-epigenetic aging biomarkers and lung function, but the researchers mention several limitations of their study. Their results suggest that epigenomic variation could help illuminate the pathogenesis of the reduced lung function that comes with age.

“Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNAm may provide further explanation for decreases in lung function as individual age.”

Click here to read the full paper, published by Aging.


Aging is an open-access journal that publishes research papers monthly in all fields of aging research and other topics. These papers are available to read at no cost to readers on Open-access journals offer information that has the potential to benefit our societies from the inside out and may be shared with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and other researchers, far and wide.

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