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Epigenetics

Epigenetics, as brilliantly described by the biologist Nessa Carey in her recent book, is the new discipline that is revolutionising biology and, inevitably, the biomarker field. Epigenetics can be described as changes in the genome that do not involve modification of DNA sequence. Typical epigenetic modifications are the methylation of DNA and modification of histones, proteins closely associated with DNA. A mutual regulation links epigenetic modifications to micro RNAs (miRNAs). The miRNAs are small, around 19-25 nucleotides long, non coding RNAs that regulate gene expression post-trascriptionally. Recent studies have demonstrated that DNA methylation and histone modifications regulate miRNAs. On the other hand miRNAs control the expression of key epigenetic regulators such as DNA methyltransferases and histone deacetylases. Therefore, this epigenetic-miRNA connection forms a complex regulatory circuit that regulates the whole gene expression profile. Interestingly, miRNAs are not only present inside cells but also outside cells including body fluids. Furthermore, miRNAs are surprisingly stable, given the instability of most RNA molecules, and possess several other requisites for a good biomarker molecule such as tissue specificity and methods of assessment (PCR). Last but not least, changes of miRNA levels in body fluids such as plasma, serum, saliva and urine, have been associated with several diseases including cancer. Among the different cancer types, the potential diagnostic utility of miRNAs has attracted particular attention in the pancreatic cancer (PC) field. PC has one of the poorest prognoses among all cancers partly because of its silent nature and tendency for late discovery. Marco Falasca, Biomarkers, Epigenetics and Pancreatic Cancer
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Last date updated on June, 2014

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