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Keywords:

  • aging of stem cells;
  • clonal competition;
  • DNA methylation;
  • histone modification;
  • mathematical model;
  • population dynamics

Summary

During aging, a decline in stem cell function is observed in many tissues. This decline is accompanied by complex changes of the chromatin structure among them changes in histone modifications and DNA methylation which both affect transcription of a tissue-specific subset of genes. A mechanistic understanding of these age-associated processes, their interrelations and environmental dependence is currently lacking. Here, we discuss related questions on the molecular, cellular, and population level. We combine an individual cell-based model of stem cell populations with a model of epigenetic regulation of transcription. The novel model enables to simulate age-related changes of trimethylation of lysine 4 at histone H3 and of DNA methylation. These changes entail expression changes of genes that induce age-related phenotypes (ARPs) of cells. We compare age-related changes of regulatory states in quiescent stem cells occupying a niche with those observed in proliferating cells. Moreover, we analyze the impact of the activity of the involved epigenetic modifiers on these changes. We find that epigenetic aging strongly affects stem cell heterogeneity and that homing at stem cell niches retards epigenetic aging. Our model provides a mechanistic explanation how increased stem cell proliferation can lead to progeroid phenotypes. Adapting our model to properties observed for aged hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) clones, we predict that the hematopoietic ARP activates young HSCs and thereby retards aging of the entire HSC population. In addition, our model suggests that the experimentally observed high interindividual variance in HSC numbers originates in a variance of histone methyltransferase activity.