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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Dec 6;102(49):17739-44. Epub 2005 Nov 28.

Counting human somatic cell replications: methylation mirrors endometrial stem cell divisions.

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Department of Pathology, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.


Cell proliferation may be altered in many diseases, but it is uncertain exactly how to measure total numbers of divisions. Although it is impossible to count every division directly, potentially total numbers of stem cell divisions since birth may be inferred from numbers of somatic errors. The idea is that divisions are surreptitiously recorded by random errors that occur during replication. To test this "molecular clock" hypothesis, epigenetic errors encoded in certain methylation patterns were counted in glands from 30 uteri. Endometrial divisions can differ among women because of differences in estrogen exposures or numbers of menstrual cycles. Consistent with an association between mitotic age and methylation, there was an age-related increase in methylation with stable levels after menopause, and significantly less methylation was observed in lean or older multiparous women. Methylation patterns were diverse and more consistent with niche rather than immortal stem cell lineages. There was no evidence for decreased stem cell survival with aging. An ability to count lifetime numbers of stem cell divisions covertly recorded by random replication errors provides new opportunities to link cell proliferation with aging and cancer.

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