Associations Between Epigenetic Age Acceleration and microRNA Expression Among U.S. Firefighters

Alesia M. Jung, Melissa A. Furlong, Jaclyn M. Goodrich, Andres Cardenas, Shawn C. Beitel, Sally R. Littau, Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, John J. Gulotta, Darin D. Wallentine, Derek Urwin, Jamie Gabriel, Jeffrey Hughes, Judith M. Graber, Casey Grant, Jefferey L. Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epigenetic changes may be biomarkers of health. Epigenetic age acceleration (EAA), the discrepancy between epigenetic age measured via epigenetic clocks and chronological age, is associated with morbidity and mortality. However, the intersection of epigenetic clocks with microRNAs (miRNAs) and corresponding miRNA-based health implications have not been evaluated. We analyzed DNA methylation and miRNA profiles from blood sampled among 332 individuals enrolled across 2 U.S.-based firefighter occupational studies (2015-2018 and 2018-2020). We considered 7 measures of EAA in leukocytes (PhenoAge, GrimAge, Horvath, skin-blood, and Hannum epigenetic clocks, and extrinsic and intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration). We identified miRNAs associated with EAA using individual linear regression models, adjusted for sex, race/ethnicity, chronological age, and cell type estimates, and investigated downstream effects of associated miRNAs with miRNA enrichment analyses and genomic annotations. On average, participants were 38 years old, 88% male, and 75% non-Hispanic white. We identified 183 of 798 miRNAs associated with EAA (FDR q < 0.05); 126 with PhenoAge, 59 with GrimAge, 1 with Horvath, and 1 with the skin-blood clock. Among miRNAs associated with Horvath and GrimAge, there were 61 significantly enriched disease annotations including age-related metabolic and cardiovascular conditions and several cancers. Enriched pathways included those related to proteins and protein modification. We identified miRNAs associated with EAA of multiple epigenetic clocks. PhenoAge had more associations with individual miRNAs, but GrimAge and Horvath had greater implications for miRNA-associated pathways. Understanding the relationship between these epigenetic markers could contribute to our understanding of the molecular underpinnings of aging and aging-related diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEpigenetics Insights
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023


  • age acceleration
  • biomarkers
  • epigenetic age
  • epigenetic clocks
  • firefighters
  • miRNAs
  • molecular epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics


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