Most of the complex traits including aging phenotypes are caused by the interaction between genome and environmental conditions and the interface of epigenetics may be a central mechanism. Although modern technologies allow us high-throughput profiling of epigenetic patterns already at genome level, our understanding of genetic and environmental influences on the epigenetic processes remains limited. Twins are of special interest for genetic studies due to their genetic similarity and rearing-environment sharing. The classical twin design has made a great contribution in dissecting the genetic and environmental contributions to human diseases and complex traits. In the era of functional genomics, the valuable sample of twins is helping to bridge the gap between gene activity and the environments through epigenetic mechanisms unlimited by DNA sequence variations. We propose to extend the classical twin design to study the aging-related molecular epigenetic phenotypes and link them with environmental exposures especially early life events. Different study designs and application issues will be highlighted and novel approaches introduced with aim at making uses of twins in assessing the environmental impact on epigenetic changes during development and in the aging process.
Ageing Research Reviews, 2013, Vol 12, Issue 1, p. 182-187