Analysis of Epigenetic Age Predictors in Pain-Related Conditions

Katarzyna Malgorzata Kwiatkowska, Maria Giulia Bacalini, Claudia Sala, Helena Kaziyama, Daniel Ciampi de Andrade, Rossana Terlizzi, Giulia Giannini, Sabina Cevoli, Giulia Pierangeli, Pietro Cortelli, Paolo Garagnani, Chiara Pirazzini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chronic pain prevalence is high worldwide and increases at older ages. Signs of premature aging have been associated with chronic pain, but few studies have investigated aging biomarkers in pain-related conditions. A set of DNA methylation (DNAm)-based estimates of age, called “epigenetic clocks,” has been proposed as biological measures of age-related adverse processes, morbidity, and mortality. The aim of this study is to assess if different pain-related phenotypes show alterations in DNAm age. In our analysis, we considered three cohorts for which whole-blood DNAm data were available: heat pain sensitivity (HPS), including 20 monozygotic twin pairs discordant for heat pain temperature threshold; fibromyalgia (FM), including 24 cases and 20 controls; and headache, including 22 chronic migraine and medication overuse headache patients (MOH), 18 episodic migraineurs (EM), and 13 healthy subjects. We used the Horvath's epigenetic age calculator to obtain DNAm-based estimates of epigenetic age, telomere length, levels of 7 proteins in plasma, number of smoked packs of cigarettes per year, and blood cell counts. We did not find differences in epigenetic age acceleration, calculated using five different epigenetic clocks, between subjects discordant for pain-related phenotypes. Twins with high HPS had increased CD8+ T cell counts (nominal p = 0.028). HPS thresholds were negatively associated with estimated levels of GDF15 (nominal p = 0.008). FM patients showed decreased naive CD4+ T cell counts compared with controls (nominal p = 0.015). The severity of FM manifestations expressed through various evaluation tests was associated with decreased levels of leptin, shorter length of telomeres, and reduced CD8+ T and natural killer cell counts (nominal p < 0.05), while the duration of painful symptoms was positively associated with telomere length (nominal p = 0.034). No differences in DNAm-based estimates were detected for MOH or EM compared with controls. In summary, our study suggests that HPS, FM, and MOH/EM do not show signs of epigenetic age acceleration in whole blood, while HPS and FM are associated with DNAm-based estimates of immunological parameters, plasma proteins, and telomere length. Future studies should extend these observations in larger cohorts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number172
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - Jun 9 2020


  • aging biomarker
  • chronic pain
  • DNA methylation
  • epigenetic aging
  • epigenetic clock
  • fibromyalgia
  • headache
  • pain sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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