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Aging Cell. 2009 Aug;8(4):439-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9726.2009.00489.x. Epub 2009 May 22.

Expression of p16(INK4a) in peripheral blood T-cells is a biomarker of human aging.

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Department of Genetics, The University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, USA.


Expression of the p16(INK4a) tumor suppressor sharply increases with age in most mammalian tissues, and contributes to an age-induced functional decline of certain self-renewing compartments. These observations have suggested that p16(INK4a) expression could be a biomarker of mammalian aging. To translate this notion to human use, we determined p16(INK4a) expression in cellular fractions of human whole blood, and found highest expression in peripheral blood T-lymphocytes (PBTL). We then measured INK4/ARF transcript expression in PBTL from two independent cohorts of healthy humans (170 donors total), and analyzed their relationship with donor characteristics. Expression of p16(INK4a), but not other INK4/ARF transcripts, appeared to exponentially increase with donor chronologic age. Importantly, p16(INK4a) expression did not independently correlate with gender or body-mass index, but was significantly associated with tobacco use and physical inactivity. In addition, p16(INK4a) expression was associated with plasma interleukin-6 concentration, a marker of human frailty. These data suggest that p16(INK4a) expression in PBTL is an easily measured, peripheral blood biomarker of molecular age.

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