WHAT IS THE ROLE OF EPIGENETICS IN DISEASE?
The role of epigenetics in disease is an area of active research. Epigenetic changes have been detected in conditions as diverse as depression, autoimmune diseases, asthma and chronic pain. Both DNA methylation and histone modifications have been implicated in the development and progression of cancer. The enzymes responsible for these modifications are frequently mutated in certain kinds of cancers, and these modifications at specific genes are often altered in tumor cells. As an example of the latter, the hypermethylation of the RB1 gene promoter was found to decrease markedly the expression of this tumor suppressor, leading to the pediatric cancer of the retina known as retinoblastoma. Further evidence of the importance of epigenetics in cancer biology has been the approval of agents that modify the epigenetic state of cells for the treatment of certain blood cancers and disorders, namely, inhibitors of histone deacetylase and DNA methyltransferase.