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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Feb 18;100(4):1775-80. Epub 2003 Feb 6.

Aging results in hypermethylation of ribosomal DNA in sperm and liver of male rats.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada H3H 1P3.


There is a concern that increased paternal age may be associated with altered fertility and an increased incidence of birth defects in man. In previous studies of aged male rats, we have found abnormalities in the fertility and in the embryos sired by older males. Aging in mammals is associated with alterations in the content and patterns of DNA methylation in somatic cells; however, little is known in regard to germ cells. A systematic search for global and gene-specific alterations of DNA methylation in germ cells and liver of male rats was done. Restriction landmark genomic scanning, a method used to determine specific methylation patterns of CpG island sequences, has revealed a region of the ribosomal DNA locus that is preferentially hypermethylated with age in both spermatozoa and liver. In contrast, all single copy CpG island sequences in spermatozoa and in liver remain unaltered with age. We further demonstrate that a large proportion of rat ribosomal DNA is normally methylated and that regional and site-specific differences exist in the patterns of methylation between spermatozoa and liver. We conclude that patterns of ribosomal DNA methylation in spermatozoa are vulnerable to the same age-dependent alterations that we observe in normal aging liver. Failure to maintain normal DNA methylation patterns in male germ cells could be one of the mechanisms underlying age-related abnormalities in fertility and progeny outcome.

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