An international team led by Chinese scientists identified in a recent study a new risk of COVID-19: it ages you beyond your years.
Researchers from the Sixth Affiliated Hospital under Sun Yat-sen University in southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and their collaborators from Spain found that chronological age is a risk factor for SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe COVID-19.
They analyzed the DNA methylation (DNAm) of the blood samples from 232 healthy individuals and 413 COVID-19 patients, according to the study published this week in the journal Nature Communications.
DNAm is a biological process by which methyl groups are added to the DNA molecule to change the activity of a DNA segment without changing its sequence. Each individual has a DNAm age and there are strong correlations between the DNAm age and an individual's chronological age, according to the study.
The researchers noted an acceleration in DNAm aging and the fraying of the telomere, an end part of the chromosome considered closely correlated to people's longevity, in infected individuals.
They noted an increasing age acceleration in the initial phases of COVID-19, though this could be partly reversed in later phases.
The study revealed that accelerated epigenetic aging is associated with the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and developing severe COVID-19, providing a new way to screen for COVID-19 infected persons who are inclined to become critically ill.