The Dynamic Epigenome: the Impact of the Environment on Epigenetic Regulation of Gene Expression and Developmental Programming
Ionel Sandovici, Noel H. Smith, Susan E. Ozanne and Miguel Constancia
from: Epigenetics (Edited by: Jörg Tost). Caister Academic Press, U.K. (2008)
Epigenetics refers to cellular mechanisms that confer stability of gene expression during development. The main molecular mechanisms that mediate these phenomena are DNA methylation and chromatin modifications. Recent research suggests that changes in the epigenome may underpin genetic-environmental interactions. Here, we review advances in the growing field of environmental epigenetics. External influences on epigenetic marking systems seen in diverse organisms from plants to animals may induce transient and long-lasting changes on epigenetic signatures. Environmental factors can therefore have long-term consequences for genome function. An effect of the environment on epigenetic programming in early life could underpin the phenomena known as developmental programming and explain the developmental origins of disease. Deficiencies in reprogramming of the germ line are likely to underlie environmentally-induced epigenetic transgenerational effects. The identification of mechanisms by which epigenetic "signaling" molecules are modulated by the environment will be instrumental in understanding these complex processes. This is an exciting area of future research, with many potential biomedical applications read more ...