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Results: We analyze longitudinal human DNA methylation trajectories at 345,895 CpGs from 600 individuals aged between 67 and 80 to understand the factors responsible for age-associated epigenetic changes at individual CpGs. We show that changes in methylation with age occur at 182,760 loci largely independently of variation in cell type proportions. These changes are especially apparent at 8322 low CpG density loci. Using SNP data from the same individuals, we demonstrate that methylation trajectories are affected by local sequence polymorphisms at 1487 low CpG density loci. More generally, we find that low CpG density regions are particularly prone to change and do so variably between individuals in people aged over 65. This differs from the behavior of these regions in younger individuals where they predominantly lose methylation.
Conclusions: Our results, which we reproduce in two independent groups of individuals, demonstrate that local DNA sequence influences age-associated DNA methylation changes in humans in vivo. We suggest that this occurs because interactions between CpGs reinforce maintenance of methylation patterns in CpG dense regions.