Author(s): Clark SJ
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Abstract Despite the completion of the Human Genome Project, we are still far from understanding the molecular events underlying epigenetic change in cancer. Cancer is a disease of the DNA with both genetic and epigenetic changes contributing to changes in gene expression. Epigenetics involves the interplay between DNA methylation, histone modifications and expression of non-coding RNAs in the regulation of gene transcription. We now know that tumour suppressor genes, with CpG island-associated promoters, are commonly hypermethylated and silenced in cancer, but we do not understood what triggers this process or when it occurs during carcinogenesis. Epigenetic gene silencing has always been envisaged as a local event silencing discrete genes, but recent data now indicates that large regions of chromosomes can be co-coordinately suppressed; a process termed long range epigenetic silencing (LRES). LRES can span megabases of DNA and involves broad heterochromatin formation accompanied by hypermethylation of clusters of contiguous CpG islands within the region. It is not clear if LRES is initiated by one critical gene target that spreads and conscripts innocent bystanders, analogous to large genetic deletions or if coordinate silencing of multiple genes is important in carcinogenesis? Over the next decade with the exciting new genomic approaches to epigenome analysis and the initiation of a Human Epigenome Project, we will understand more about the interplay between DNA methylation and chromatin modifications and the expression of non-coding RNAs, promising a new range of molecular diagnostic cancer markers and molecular targets for cancer epigenetic therapy.
This article was published in Hum Mol Genet
and referenced in Journal of Pharmacogenomics & Pharmacoproteomics