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Updated: May 22

​Epigenetics refers to the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve alterations to the underlying DNA sequence. While the DNA sequence itself is fixed, epigenetic modifications can influence how genes are expressed, or "turned on" or "off," and can be passed down from one generation of cells to the next.

Key features of epigenetics include:

  1. Epigenetic Mechanisms:

  • DNA Methylation: The addition of methyl groups to DNA molecules, typically at cytosine bases. DNA methylation is often associated with gene repression or reduced gene expression.

  • Histone Modification: Changes to the proteins around which DNA is wound (histones). Histone modifications can affect the accessibility of genes, influencing their expression.

  • Non-coding RNAs: Small RNA molecules that can interfere with the translation of genetic information into proteins. These include microRNAs and long non-coding RNAs.

  1. Role in Gene Expression:

  • Epigenetic modifications play a crucial role in regulating gene expression. They can either enhance or suppress the activity of specific genes without altering the underlying DNA sequence.

  1. Development and Cell Differentiation:

  • Epigenetic processes are essential during development, helping cells differentiate into specialized cell types with distinct functions.

  • Epigenetic changes contribute to the maintenance of cell identity and function.

  1. Response to Environment:

  • Environmental factors, such as diet, stress, toxins, and lifestyle, can influence epigenetic patterns.

  • These environmental influences can have long-term effects on health and disease susceptibility.

  1. Inheritance:

  • Some epigenetic changes can be passed from one generation to the next, although the degree of heritability is still a topic of ongoing research.

  1. Disease and Disorders:

  • Aberrations in epigenetic regulation have been associated with various diseases, including cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, and metabolic diseases.

Epigenetics provides a mechanism through which cells can "remember" past experiences or environmental exposures, influencing their behavior and function over time. The field of epigenetics has significant implications for understanding development, disease, and the potential for therapeutic interventions.

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