Association of Adverse Childhood Experiences With Accelerated Epigenetic Aging in Midlife

Kyeezu Kim, Kristine Yaffe, David H. Rehkopf, Yinan Zheng, Drew R. Nannini, Amanda M. Perak, Jason M. Nagata, Greg E. Miller, Kai Zhang, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, Brian T. Joyce, Lifang Hou

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Importance: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with the risk of poorer health, and identifying molecular mechanisms may lay the foundation for health promotion in people with ACEs. Objective: To investigate the associations of ACEs with changes in epigenetic age acceleration (EAA), a biomarker associated with various health outcomes in middle-aged adults, in a population with balanced race and sex demographics. Design, Setting, and Participants: Data for this cohort study were from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Participants in CARDIA underwent 8 follow-up exams from baseline (year 0 [Y0]; 1985-1986) to Y30 (2015-2016), and participant blood DNA methylation information was obtained at Y15 (2000-2001) and Y20 (2005-2006). Individuals from Y15 and Y20 with available DNA methylation data and complete variables for ACEs and covariates were included. Data were analyzed from September 2021 to August 2022. Exposures: Participant ACEs (general negligence, emotional negligence, physical violence, physical negligence, household substance abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, and household dysfunction) were obtained at Y15. Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcome consisted of results from 5 DNA methylation-based EAA measurements known to be associated with biological aging and long-term health: intrinsic EAA (IEAA), extrinsic EAA (EEAA), PhenoAge acceleration (PhenoAA), GrimAge acceleration (GrimAA), and Dunedin Pace of Aging Calculated From the Epigenome (DunedinPACE), measured at Y15 and Y20. Linear regression and generalized estimating equations were used to assess associations of the burden of ACEs (≥4 vs <4 ACEs) with EAA adjusting for demographics, health-related behaviors, and early life and adult socioeconomic status. Results: A total of 895 participants for Y15 (mean [SD] age, 40.4 [3.5] years; 450 males [50.3%] and 445 females [49.7%]; 319 Black [35.6%] and 576 White [64.4%]) and 867 participants for Y20 (mean [SD] age, 45.4 [3.5] years; 432 males [49.8%] and 435 females [50.2%]; 306 Black [35.3%] and 561 White [64.7%]) were included after excluding participants with missing data. There were 185 participants with (20.7%) vs 710 participants without (79.3%) 4 or more ACEs at Y15 and 179 participants with (20.6%) vs 688 participants without (79.4%) 4 or more ACEs at Y20. Having 4 or more ACEs was positively associated with EAA in years at Y15 (EEAA: β = 0.60 years; 95% CI, 0.18-1.02 years; PhenoAA: β = 0.62 years; 95% CI = 0.13-1.11 years; GrimAA: β = 0.71 years; 95% CI, 0.42-1.00 years; DunedinPACE: β = 0.01; 95% CI, 0.01-0.02) and Y20 (IEAA: β = 0.41 years; 95% CI, 0.05-0.77 years; EEAA: β = 1.05 years; 95% CI, 0.66-1.44 years; PhenoAA: β = 0.57 years; 95% CI, 0.08-1.05 years; GrimAA: β = 0.57 years; 95% CI, 0.28-0.87 years; DunedinPACE: β = 0.01; 95% CI, 0.01-0.02) after adjusting for demographics, health-related behaviors, and socioeconomic status. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, ACEs were associated with EAA among middle-aged adults after controlling for demographics, behavior, and socioeconomic status. These findings of the associations between early life experience and the biological aging process in midlife may contribute to health promotion in a life course perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2317987
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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