Proof of concept study of age-dependent DNA methylation markers across different tissues by massive parallel sequencing

Jana Naue*, Timo Sänger, Huub C.J. Hoefsloot, Sabine Lutz-Bonengel, Ate D. Kloosterman, Pernette J. Verschure

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The use of DNA methylation (DNAm) for chronological age determination has been widely investigated within the last few years for its application within the field of forensic genetics. The majority of forensic studies are based on blood, saliva, and buccal cell samples, respectively. Although these types of samples represent an extensive amount of traces found at a crime scene or are readily available from individuals, samples from other tissues can be relevant for forensic investigations. Age determination could be important for cases involving unidentifiable bodies and based on remaining soft tissue e.g. brain and muscle, or completely depend on hard tissue such as bone. However, due to the cell type specificity of DNAm, it is not evident whether cell type specific age-dependent CpG positions are also applicable for age determination in other cell types. Within this pilot study, we investigated whether 13 previously selected age-dependent loci based on whole blood analysis including amongst others ELOVL2, TRIM59, F5, and KLF14 also have predictive value in other forensically relevant tissues. Samples of brain, bone, muscle, buccal swabs, and whole blood of 29 deceased individuals (age range 0–87 years) were analyzed for these 13 age-dependent markers using massive parallel sequencing. Seven of these loci did show age-dependency in all five tissues. The change of DNAm during lifetime was different in the set of tissues analyzed, and sometimes other CpG sites within the loci showed a higher age-dependency. This pilot study shows the potential of existing blood DNAm markers for age-determination to analyze other tissues than blood. We identified seven known blood-based DNAm markers for use in muscle, brain, bone, buccal swabs, and blood. Nevertheless, a different reference set for each tissue is needed to adapt for tissue-specific changes of the DNAm over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-159
Number of pages8
JournalForensic Science International: Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Age determination
  • DNA methylation
  • Forensic epigenetics
  • Massive parallel sequencing


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